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.

AUTHOR

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.

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