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Mr NSA, what are you doing about Huawei?

By Surajeet Das Gupta
December 24, 2018 12:46 IST
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Chinese equipment contracts had been given by many public sector undertakings and government companies for their networks, even in sensitive places such as the north east.
Surajeet Das Gupta reports.

IMAGE: An advertising board during the first demonstration of 5G technology in Lisbon, Portugal, June 4, 2018. Photograph: Rafael Marchante/Reuters

The ripples from the growing alarm in other countries over the security risks presented by Huawei Technologies'S telecom equipment have reached Indian shores, with the telecom export body raising a red flag about possible dangers to national security from the private Chinese tech giant.

On the heels of other countries imposing bans or restrictions on the use of Huawei's 5G telecom equipment, the Telecom Equipment and Services Export Promotion Council (TEPC) plans to write to National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, asking for similar restrictions to be imposed in India on equipment manufactured by Huawei and all Chinese majors.

Confirming the development, R K Bhatnagar, director-general, TEPC, said: "We are drafting a letter to the national security advisor requesting that we should consider putting restrictions on Chinese equipment based on security concerns."

Chinese equipment contracts had been given by many public sector undertakings and government companies for their networks, even in sensitive places such as the north east, Bhatnagar added.

 

It is technically possible for the networks to be controlled remotely from another country through software embedded in the system and for calls to be intercepted.

Bhatnagar said that as India gradually moves towards the Internet of Things, even more security concerns are likely to arise.

The US, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, among others, are banning the Chinese company's products from rolling out on future 5G networks.

The fear is that the company could be working with the Chinese government to spy on its users and pilfer information.

The US has also written to its allies across the world urging them to ban Huawei's smartphones (it is also the second largest smartphone manufacturer in the world, after Samsung) and telecom equipment.

In April, the Pentagon stopped selling mobile phones and modems made by Huawei and another Chinese company, ZTE, at stores on military bases around the world due to potential security risks.

In India, security concerns in some circles have been simmering for a while.

Huawei has been a key player in the Indian telecom gear market, especially for 4G where, according to some estimates, it has around a 30 per cent share of the business.

In fact, the government has acted earlier to restrict Chinese manufacturers.

At one point, it forbade government-owned telecom companies such as BSNL from using Chinese equipment in sensitive border areas.

Also, the defence ministry has opposed the use of Chinese equipment in the optic fibre network being built for the armed services' communication system.

Despite this, the Department of Telecommunications has given the green signal to Huawei to conduct 5G trials, scheduled to begin from the first quarter of 2019.

TEPC has been among those to raise concerns.

In July and then again in October, it mentioned its concerns to Doval on the possible challenges from Chinese telecom equipment manufacturers.

Indian equipment manufacturers have also joined battle with TEPC.

SPY GAMES
  • The US, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, among others, are banning the Chinese company's products from rolling out on future 5G networks.
  • The fear is that the company could be working with the Chinese government to spy on its users and pilfer information.
  • The US has also written to its allies urging them to ban Huawei's smartphones and telecom equipment.

"National security is of prime importance for any country. And now considering the action being taken in various countries against Chinese manufacturers, there is an urgent need for the Indian government to review the policy of procuring telecom and information technology equipment from Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE," said N K Goyal, chairman emeritus, Telecom Equipment Manufacturers Association of India.

"This cannot and should not be accepted in the national interest," Goyal added.

Indian manufacturers have been losing out to Chinese players, even in tenders floated by the government for building networks, despite the Make In India policy.

Responding to the US ban and whether Indian should follow suit, Huawei India CEO Jay Chen said: "We continue to receive full support from the government and industry partners alike. The recent incident in the US has no bearing in India."

"We are not aware of any request from the US to India around 5G," Chen added.

India, Chen pointed out, is a key market and has the largest and most localised presence outside China.

China is currently engaged in a diplomatic and trade feud with America over the arrest in Canada of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou on December 1.

She was arrested in Vancouver by the Canadian authorities, at America's request, for violating sanctions that the US has imposed on Iran.

 

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Surajeet Das Gupta
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