The government is considering the use of the Mandatory Testing and Certification of Telecom Equipment (MTCTE) regime to discourage private telecom players in India from buying Chinese telecom gear for their future operations.
As part of the MTCTE regime, the government is finalising stringent rules under the Indian Telecommunications Security Assurance Requirements. Under these rules, telecom gear makers have to share their source codes and get their equipment tested by third-party labs accredited to the government. The process may take 12-16 weeks before vendors are given the go-ahead to import telecom equipment.
“The process of mandatory testing will take a lot of time and no operator can wait for such a long time, as installation will get hugely delayed and there will be uncertainty, ” says a senior executive of a telco.
MTCTE will, of course, be applicable to all telecom equipment makers — Chinese, European (such as Ericsson and Nokia) or Korean (Samsung). However, European and Korean manufacturers do not face security concerns globally, and are unlikely to be stalled by the MTCTE process.
Hence, the government’s move seems to be part of the global push, spearheaded by the US, to ban the use of Chinese telecom gear after allegations that their equipment is used for spying. In fact, many countries including Japan and the UK, have decided not to buy 5G equipment from Chinese vendors such as technology giant Huawei.
However, Indian telecom operators have publicly, and through the Cellular Operators Association of India, said that there should not be any restriction on them to buy Chinese gear. They assert that Chinese 5G technology is far ahead of its rivals and is also highly competitive. Moreover, some have pointed to WTO rules, which do not allow such discrimination.
In the wake of the bloody skirmishes and the continued standoff between the two countries on the Line of Actual Control, the Indian government has been taking various policy measures to ensure that the Chinese find it difficult to participate in the public procurement of equipment.
It has also tightened the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) policy, so that Chinese investment in India cannot come through the automatic route, but has to be scrutinised by the government.
The government is also looking at whether the leasing of spectrum can be made conditional on country of origin restrictions. Says RK Bhatnagar, former advisor, technology, at the Department of Telecommunications: “Mandatory and security testing has already been notified through the Indian Telegraph Amendment Rules and the existing unified licensing condition on security can always be used to bring private players in line and restrict Chinese.”