Spain’s Ministry for Economic Affairs and Digital Transformation (MINECO) said that suppliers considered “high risk” would be excluded from participating in state funding projects

This week, the Spanish government has embarked on the next phase of its €1 billion funding project aimed at rolling out 5G standalone (SA) to rural areas across the country.

This latest phase will see €544 million made available for projects to deploy the latest mobile technology in locations with fewer than 10,000 inhabitants and that are currently missing from the private sector’s rollout plans.

Operators will be able to use the funding to purchase of both active and passive infrastructure, with a competitive bidding process to take place for each of Spain’s 50 provinces. The winning operator will receive 100% of the available fund if they are the sole bidder in a province and up to 75% if they are not.

An operator can win funding for no more than 30 provinces, with applications needing to be submitted by the end of the month.

This allocation process marks the latest step in Spain’s €1 billion UNICO-5G Redes Activas programme, approve by the European Commission earlier this year to help rollout 5G infrastructure across the country’s most underserved areas. Earlier this year, MINECO allocated €448 million to various operators to upgrade rural 5G base stations with fibre backhaul as part of this project.

This funding for this programme ultimately comes from the European Union’s Recovery and Resilience Facility, which was introduced back in 2021 in an effort to mitigate the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The Facility aims to make €723.8 billion available in loans and grants between 2021 and 20227 to help support member states economies to modernise and become more resilient.

So far, Spain’s 5G rollout has been steady, with the technology today covering roughly 82% of the country’s population. Rural areas, however, remain a challenge, with small populations and difficult geography making deployments unappealing for the operators. With roughly 20% of Spain’s population living in rural areas – around nine million people – this is naturally a challenge that the government is seeking to address.

“With this pioneer programme in Europe, the government continues to promote the deployment of technology that opens new possibilities for the economic and social development of the country. This strategy’s aim is to promote territorial cohesion and generate opportunities and quality employment,” said Secretary of State for Telecommunications and Digital Infrastructure, María González Veracruz in a translated statement.

It should be noted, however, that the operators will be limited in their choice of vendor partners for their 5G rollout, with the government ruling that ‘high risk’ vendors should be excluded from public funding projects such as the UNICO-5G Redes Activas programme.

While a specific list of such ‘high risk’ equipment suppliers has yet to be announced by the government, it is likely to include Chinese equipment giant Huawei, who earlier this week lodged a pre-emptive challenge to the government’s decision via their Spanish unit.

Huawei argued that the decision to exclude certain providers would be illegal under European law and was a politically motivated decision on the part of the government.

“The article in question interferes with operators’ freedom to choose the best provider on the basis of objective criteria reflecting commercial, technical and security requirements,” Huawei told Bloomberg earlier this week. “Instead, it seeks to exclude certain suppliers based on arbitrary political criteria.”

Huawei still plays a major role in Spain’s mobile networks, comprising around 38% of the country’s 5G network, according to a recent report by Strand Consult. However, the EU is increasingly pushing for Huawei’s presence in European networks to be eliminated, suggesting in its latest guidelines that member states were moving too slowly to remove these ‘high risk’ suppliers from their networks.

How is the removal of ‘high risk’ vendors altering the European mobile landscape? Join the discussion at this year’s Total Telecom Congress live from Amsterdam

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