The Telecom department has decided to rule out the use of Chinese telecom gear in the upgradation of the 4G equipment of the state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited or BSNL. Sources in the government said the ministry has decided to “firmly tell BSNL” not to use Chinese equipment in view if security issues. Sources said the department has also decided to rework the tender in this regard. The government is also considering asking private operators to reduce their dependence on equipment made by Chinese firms. Telecom companies like Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea have been working with Huawei in their current networks, while ZTE works with state-run BSNL.
The government’s decision came amid a huge tension at Ladakh, where 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a clash with Chinese troops on Monday evening. This was the first time in nearly five decades that fatalities were reported at the Line of Actual Control, the de facto border with China.
The network security of equipment made by Chinese companies are always doubtful, as per sources.
In 2012, a committee of US lawmakers warned of cyber espionage threats from telecom networks built by Chinese companies and suggested that American companies considering doing business with Huawei and ZTE should look for other vendors. The Chinese companies had strongly denied the accusations.
Two years later, parliament was told that Chinese telecom equipment maker Huawei has allegedly hacked into the BSNL network and the government is investigating the matter.
In February, during US President Donald Trump’s visit to India, Mukesh Ambani had assured him that Reliance Jio will not have a single Chinese network part in its upcoming 5G network.Reliance Jio is the only network in the world that doesn’t use Chinese equipment, Mr Ambani told Mr Trump. Jio has South Korea’s Samsung as a networking partner for both its 4G and 5G networks.
Upgradation of 4G facilities is part of the BSNL’s revival package and earlier this year, there was a tug of war between BSNL employees and the government over the latter’s insistence on the use of homegrown firms to boost its Make in India policy. The BSNL employees had pointed out that all its competitors — Bharati Airtel, Vodafone and Reliance Jio — were using equipment from multinationals.
The department may also convey that the tender in this regard may need to be reworked. A similar message will be conveyed to Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL), sources said.
The department is even considering measures to urge private telecom operators to bring down their dependence on Chinese-made telecom equipment. In the past, there have been concerns around network security of Chinese equipment, sources pointed out. On Twitter, hashtags like ‘HindiCheeniByeBye’ and ‘BharatVsChina’ have been trending.
Earlier on Wednesday, Chinese handset maker Oppo cancelled the livestream launch of its flagship 5G smartphone in the country amid protests calling for the boycott of Chinese products in various parts of the country. Oppo, which ranks among the top five smartphone vendors in India, had said it will livestream the launch of its Find X2 smartphone on Wednesday via YouTube. However, the livestream was cancelled later on, and the company instead uploaded a pre-recorded video.
Notably, four of the five top smartphone brands in India (Xiaomi, Vivo, Realme and Oppo) are from China and accounted for almost 76 per cent share of smartphones shipped in India in the quarter ended March 2020. South Korea’s Samsung, which ranked third and cornered 15.6 per cent share of shipment in the said quarter, is the only non-Chinese firm in the top five tallies.