India’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has excluded Huawei and ZTE from its list of companies asked to partner for trials to develop 5G use cases for India. New Delhi may well follow the US and Australia in limiting involvement of Chinese telecom equipment makers in the roll-out of the next-gen technology.
“We have written to Cisco, Samsung, Ericsson and Nokia, and telecom service providers to partner with us to start 5G technology-based trials, and have got positive response from them,” telecom secretary Aruna Sundararajan told ETTelecom.
“We have excluded Huawei from these trials,” she said, when asked if Huawei has been eliminated from the trials for security reasons. The government is planning to show case India-specific 5G use cases by early 2019.
People familiar with the matter said besides Huawei, the government has also excluded ZTE for the 5G trials.
India’s move comes shortly after both the US and Australia moved to act against Huawei and ZTE amid concerns about possible cyber snooping by China. Last month, Australia barred both Huawei and ZTE from its 5G network roll-outs. Before that, the US had barred government use of equipment from the two Chinese gear makers, in what is perceived as wider efforts to keep the companies away from 5G roll-outs in the country. The UK has also found “shortcomings” in Huawei’s engineering processes, which the company said it was trying to address.
“This appears more a move to restrict government ties with Chinese equipment makers given the sensitive nature of security issues, especially after what happened in some other countries,” said an industry executive who asked not to be named.
This though isn’t the first time Chinese equipment makers have faced trouble in India over security issues. Back in 2010, the government had for several months unofficially barred mobile phone operators from importing and using telecom equipment from Chinese companies on suspicion that they may have technology built in for spying into sensitive communication. The ban was lifted after the companies agreed to more stringent testing rules.
The latest government move could deal a huge setback to the two companies, especially Huawei – among the largest equipment makers globally – which considers itself the leader in 5G technology and hopes to tap into huge demand for 5G software and equipment in the years ahead as telcos roll-out the next-gen technology globally.
That bid faces a huge challenge as more and more countries try to prevent the companies from participating in their 5G roll-out plans.
In India, Huawei has already been facing huge pressure on revenue owing to rapid consolidation in the telecom market, which has slashed the number of telcos by more than half. The company, staring at a 40% slump in revenue in 2018, has already stopped assembly of its products out of its local plants and has resorted to import to meet the reduced demand. Huawei’s India revenue is likely to come down to roughly $700-800 million (Rs 4,740-5,415 crore) this year from around $1.2 billion in 2017.
And with the DoT’s decision, Huawei’s business could come under more pressure even as India chalks out aggressive 5G plans.
“We are in regular touch with DoT and concerned government officials. The Indian government has always supported Huawei and has been appreciative of our path-breaking technologies and solutions,” Huawei in a statement late Thursday said, adding that the company was confident that showcasing its 5G technology would lead to a collaboration with the government and other ecosystem, allowing it to partner India in its journey to enable 5G and digital transformation.
The Chinese gear maker also said that it is working closely with various telecom operators as they would play a crucial role in conducting 5G field trial for India specific use cases. ZTE didn’t respond to ET’s emailed query as of press time.
“We are going to set up core group in the department to push this (trials) further, so that by early next year, we would be able to demonstrate 5G use cases in India,” Sundararajan said.
“As of now, we are at par with all major economies and have set up a high-level task force, which in its report has given the recommendations for the spectrum, standards, skills and early roll-outs,” she added.
The government is confident that India will roll-out 5G in tandem with global markets in 2020 and is making all efforts to keep the timeline for the next-generation technology, which could have an economic impact of more than $1 trillion in the country.
“We are committed to support the government’s 5G for India programme, aimed at bringing 5G to India by 2020,” Ericsson India managing director Nitin Bansal said, adding that the Swedish company is looking at developing the 5G ecosystem in India through industry partnerships.