India’s 5G trial conditions may trip China; Huawei, ZTE may find difficult to meet these IB demands

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Updated: Jul 08, 2020 9:46 AM

The conditions would be onerous for Chinese vendors given the government currently has no plans to auction 5G spectrum; the handsets too are not available

5G trial, China, India, IB, Huawei, ZTEThe Intelligence Bureau (IB) is reportedly against data going outside the country during the trials and it also does not want remote access to be granted to the Chinese vendors

There may have been some diplomatic breakthrough in the border stand-off with China but the same cannot be said about the impending 5G trials for which all operators are partnering with one of the two Chinese vendors — Huawei and ZTE. Although the trials take place with very limited spectrum and a few base stations and are aimed at fixing the glitches, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) is understood to have hardened its stance on two counts — remote access and data storage. The agency is reportedly against data going outside the country during the trials and it also does not want remote access to be granted to the Chinese vendors.

If the government doesn’t alter its stance, Chinese vendors like Huawei and ZTE will not be able to participate in the trials. All foreign telecom vendors have their hubs located abroad, from where they oversee the network and remedy the glitches from time to time.

Experts said no vendor would be willing to relocate the hub within the country, for remote location, and that too for trial purposes. Similar is the case with data storage, especially in the case of trials because it will be done with limited handsets and users.

The conditions would be onerous for Chinese vendors given the government currently has no plans to auction 5G spectrum; the handsets too are not available. As such, for any Chinese vendors to plan local data storage or relocate remote access servers in the absence of a definite roadmap seems a remote possibility.

As reported earlier, a ministry of home affairs-led committee has been mandated to take a final call on whether Chinese vendors like Huawei and ZTE would be allowed to participate in the 5G trials. The committee will have members from the department of telecommunications, IB and National Security Council Secretariat.

The subject was debated at length last year after the US administration hardened its stance against Huawei and sent advisories to other nations. Finally, in January the DoT allowed the telecom operators to file applications with vendors of their choice stating there is no ban on any vendor, Chinese or otherwise. However, the matter did not move beyond it.

Most of the operators have submitted applications with multiple vendors. Reliance Jio, for instance, has submitted applications for trials with Ericsson, Nokia, Huawei, and Samsung. Similarly, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea have submitted with Nokia, Ericsson, Huawei and ZTE, while state-run BSNL/MTNL have submitted with ZTE and C-DOT.

While Jio’s application with Huawei can be viewed as not too serious because it is the only company without any equipment from the Chinese vendors in its 4G network, the same cannot be said about the other operators. Jio may have submitted an application with Huawei but since a new network like 5G will be laid over the existing 4G network, giving the final contract or any part of it to a Chinese vendor is highly unlikely.

However, for Bharti, Huawei’s share of the overall network is about 30%. In the case of Vodafone Idea it is around 40% because upgradation of 3G to 4G has been slow and nthe company has not kept pace with Bharti Airtel. The state-run BSNL’s 3G network is largely built by Chinese ZTE taking its share in the total network to 40%. BSNL does not have 4G so far. Therefore, if these operators are deniedpermission to go ahead with trials with Chinese vendors, it would increase their procurement cost by about 20-25%.

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