At noon on 5 June, even as cross-border tensions between India and China raged, Niti Aayog, the Indian government’s policy think tank, hosted a war council of its own. In attendance were senior officials of the Department of Telecommunications, National Security Council Secretariat, and state-owned telecom operator BSNL. Senior academicians and scientists were also present.

The most important attendees, though, were the executives of Indian software service firms and telecom gear vendors. The purpose of the meeting, after all, was to evaluate the possibility of rolling out a 4G network for the beleaguered BSNL using Indian companies. 

BSNL was looking within the country for solutions as the government had moved to bar its use of Chinese equipment vendors such as ZTE and Huawei. The former, along with Finnish telecoms major Nokia, had originally been chosen by BSNL for the upgradation and expansion of its 2G and 3G network to 4G. BSNL had floated an almost Rs 8,000 crore tender for this in March.   

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) may even come up with a list of sensitive items in telecoms, which have direct security implications, a senior executive with a global telecom vendor told The Ken. The import of these items from neighbouring countries could be banned, dealing a further blow to Huawei and ZTE, the senior executive added.

The Indian government is hardly alone in its aversion to Chinese telecoms companies. The US government is finalising regulations finalising regulations Reuters Any company that uses equipment or services from the five Chinese companies will no longer be able to sell to the US government Read more  that would deny contracts to companies that use products from five Chinese firms, including ZTE and Huawei. The UK, too, has revisited revisited BBC The UK's mobile providers are being banned from buying new Huawei 5G equipment after 31 December Read more  its decision to allow Huawei to participate in its 5G networks. Singapore, meanwhile, has virtually kept Chinese firms out virtually kept Chinese firms out Nikkei Asian Review Singtel and StarHub prefer European tech to Chinese for the main equipment Read more  of its recently-awarded 5G contracts.

Filling the void left by the likes of ZTE and Huawei, though, will not be easy for India. A study by Indian officials showed that over 60% of the state-owned telco’s network functioned on ZTE equipment.


Pratap Vikram Singh

Pratap is based out of Delhi and covers policy and myriad intersections with the other sectors, most notably technology. He has worked with Governance Now for seven years, reporting on technology, telecom policy, and the social sector.

View Full Profile

Available exclusively to subscribers of The Ken India

This story is a part of The Ken India edition. Subscribe. Questions?


Annual Subscription

12-month access to 200+ stories, archive of 800+ stories from our India edition. Plus our premium newsletters, Beyond The First Order and The Nutgraf worth Rs. 99/month or $2/month each for free.

Rs. 2,750


Quarterly Subscription

3-month access to 60+ new stories with 3-months worth of archives from our India edition. Plus our premium newsletters, Beyond The First Order and The Nutgraf worth Rs. 99/month or $2/month each for free.

Rs. 1,750


Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

Rs. 500


Annual Subscription

12-month access to 150+ stories from Southeast Asia.

$ 120


Quarterly Subscription

3-month access to 35+ stories from Southeast Asia.

$ 50


Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

$ 20



What is The Ken?

The Ken is a subscription-only business journalism website and app that provides coverage across two editions - India and Southeast Asia.

What kind of stories do you write?

We publish sharp, original and reported stories on technology, business and healthcare. Our stories are forward-looking, analytical and directional — supported by data, visualisations and infographics.

We use language and narrative that is accessible to even lay readers. And we optimise for quality over quantity, every single time.

What do I get if I subscribe?

For subscribers of the India edition, we publish a new story every weekday, a premium daily newsletter, Beyond The First Order and a weekly newsletter - The Nutgraf.

For subscribers of the Southeast Asia edition, we publish a new story three days a week and a weekly newsletter, Strait Up.

The annual subscription will get you complete, exclusive access to our archive of previously published stories for your edition, along with access to our subscriber-only mobile apps, our premium comment sections, our newsletter archives and several other gifts and benefits.

Do I need to pay separately for your premium newsletters?

Nope. Paid, premium subscribers of The Ken get our newsletters delivered for free.

Does a subscription to the India edition grant me access to Southeast Asia stories? Or vice-versa?

Afraid not. Each edition is separate with its own subscription plan. The India edition publishes stories focused on India. The Southeast Asia edition is focused on Southeast Asia. We may occasionally cross-publish stories from one edition to the other.

Do you offer an all-access joint subscription for both editions?

Not yet. If you’d like to access both editions, you’ll have to purchase two subscriptions separately - one for India and the other for Southeast Asia.

Do you offer any discounts?

No. We have a zero discounts policy.

Is there a free trial I can opt for?

We don’t offer any trials, but you can sign up for a free account which will give you access to the weekly free story, our archive of free stories and summaries of the paid stories. You can stay on the free account as long as you’d like.

Do you offer refunds?

We allow you to sample our journalism for free before signing up, and after you do, we stand by its quality. But we do not offer refunds.

I am facing some trouble purchasing a subscription. What can I do?

Please write to us at [email protected] detailing the error or queries.