5G spectrum: Chinese vendors like Huwaei and ZTE out, but trials still not on

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Updated: Sep 13, 2020 12:15 AM

The government had in July decided to bar companies based in countries sharing land border with India from any government procurement and contract.

The industry was agreeable to the government's decision and had expected that the permissions would be granted soon, but more than a month has passed and no approval has come.The industry was agreeable to the government’s decision and had expected that the permissions would be granted soon, but more than a month has passed and no approval has come.

Telecom operators are peeved that the department of telecommunications (DoT) is delaying approvals for 5G trials despite the industry agreeing to keep Chinese vendors like Huwaei and ZTE out of the process.

Industry sources said the operators are contemplating to write jointly to the DoT that the government is free to approve or reject any of their applications as they have filed trial requests with several partners, but should not delay in giving them spectrum and permission for conducting the trials.

Following the border tension with China, the government had decided that it would approve applications only from operators that are with non-Chinese vendors.

This meant that Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea, which had submitted applications for trials with Nokia, Ericsson, Huawei, and ZTE, would be given the go-ahead to conduct the trials only with Nokia and Ericsson and not Huawei and ZTE. Similarly, Reliance Jio would be given permission to go ahead with Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung but not Huawei. Jio has submitted another application where it would independently conduct the trials.

The industry was agreeable to the government’s decision and had expected that the permissions would be granted soon, but more than a month has passed and no approval has come.

The government had in July decided to bar companies based in countries sharing land border with India from any government procurement and contract.

Though the trials are to be conducted by private telecom operators on whom the border restrictions do not apply, the government took the line that since spectrum is a public asset and will be given by it to the companies, the guidelines can be applied here.

The private telecom operators did not have any objection to this line being taken by the government and said since they have submitted applications with multiple vendors, the government should process the ones it wants and drop the unfavourable ones, but it should take the decision expeditiously and not keep the trials hanging for long.

The DoT’s decision on barring Chinese vendors for 5G trials also clearly indicated to the telecom operators that going ahead for any spectrum auction, the telcos cannot place network procurement contracts with companies like Huawei and ZTE. As earlier reported, for upcoming auctions for 4G/5G spectrum the government plans to put in a condition in the notice inviting applications (NIA) that companies successful in winning the bids cannot procure equipment from foreign companies belonging to countries sharing a common border with India.

Though the plan to auction 5G spectrum is not on the cards this fiscal considering the weak financial health of the telecom firms, auction of some 4G spectrum bands can take place during the current fiscal.

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