In a twist to the controversy over India’s national security and the Chinese giant Huawei Technologies, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) defended the company, saying it “acknowledges and appreciates the Chinese company to be in the forefront of 5G innovation”.
In a letter to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) secretary on Monday, the COAI, which represents telecom service providers, said: “They (Huawei) are suitably equipped to prepare operators and industry to build 5G capabilities in operations, in organisation and most importantly in the eco-system and to ensure they are fully compliant with all government requirements.”
This defence of Huawei came after it emerged that the Telecom Equipment and Services Export Promotion Council (TEPC) plans to write to the National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval, asking for restrictions to be imposed on the use of equipment manufactured by Huawei and by all other Chinese majors.
The reason for wanting restrictions is the fear that India’s national security could be compromised by a company such as Huawei that, though private, could work with the Chinese government to intercept calls or remotely control networks.
The background to the TEPC’s anxiety is that several other countries have imposed bans or restrictions on the use of Huawei’s 5G telecom equipment.
For the COAI, these concerns are unfounded. In the letter, it says that ‘arbitrary exclusion of certain companies on hearsay may be detrimental to the overall digital communications aspirations of the nation”. It further adds that the DoT is competent to judge for itself ‘if there are any concerns in the Indian context and to put suitable measures to ensure the security of customers and that of the country is in no way compromised’.
While Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and the US have banned or restricted the use of Huawei’s 5G equipment, the DoT has given it permission to do trial runs for 5G which will begin in the first quarter of 2019.
COAI has argued that in India the government has been working to keep telecom networks secure, with reviews of the security policy and the insertion of specific clauses into the licences to prevent any risk to network security. A licence amendment in 2011 has mandated a security audit of the telecom networks, something which the DoT has been doing regularly.
No equipment is allowed in the network without proper test certifications. Moreover, as part of the licensing conditions, the telecom service provider has to ensure that all equipment installed in the network is safe.
However, the Telecom Equipment Manufacturers Association of India backs the TEPC view. In a recent statement, it said the government should review buying equipment from Chinese companies to protect the national interest.