5G trials: Government keeps Chinese companies out

Chinese telecom vendors Huawei and ZTE have not found a place in the government’s ambitious 5G trials, in a clear signal that business relations with the country’s neighbour will remain restricted, amid growing concerns around network security and prevailing tensions in diplomatic and military relations.

The trials are a precursor to 5G auctions that are expected to start late this year, or early next, and absence here means that there will be very little chance of the Chinese companies finding many takers at the time of actual network deployment.

Officially, the DoT approved 5G trials’ permissions to mobile operators (Reliance Jio, Airtel, Vodafone Idea and MTNL) who said they will partner with network providers such as Sweden’s Ericsson, Finland’s Nokia, Korea’s Samsung and state-owned C-DOT. Jio will also be conducting trials using its own indigenous technology.

The move comes weeks after the government had taken decisive steps towards securing the mobile ecosystem by making amendments to the telecom licence rules, mandating that after June 15, equipment can be procured only from ‘trusted’ sources that have been approved by a designated authority. This, say sources, was a “clear enough signal” to be wary of procuring from the Chinese companies.

While refusing to speak on participation of Chinese companies, telecom secretary Anshu Prakash said that conducting trials will reduce the time between auction of 5G spectrum and the rollout of the high-speed networks.

“In the past, trials for new technologies happened after spectrum auctions. But we have recently issued new guidelines for experimental spectrum and spectrum trials based on which the trials are being undertaken. Mobile operators can choose the vendors and technologies and the type of equipment they would like to install,” Prakash said.

The telecom secretary said 5G field trials would also include test on India-specific applications in socially-relevant sectors such as health, education, agriculture, traffic management and others. “The trials will also enable real-life testing of 5G devices and handsets.”

In December last year, the government had said that it will prepare a list of “trusted source”, a move aimed at countering the rising threat of Chinese equipment, after the Cabinet committee on security approved the National Security Directive for telecom.

As part of the policy, the National Cyber Security Coordinator will act as the Designated Authority and would also notify a list of sources from whom “no procurement” can be done.

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