India’s 5G Rollout Not to Have Chinese Firms Participating Amid Spying Concerns

© Photo : Pixabay5G Smartphone
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Telecom professionals and cybersecurity experts opine that Chinese smartphone manufacturers are being seen as agents of the Chinese military and it is apprehended that their equipment may be vulnerable to Chinese snooping activities.

New Delhi (Sputnik) — India has joined the bandwagon of countries that are banning Chinese phone manufacturers from partnering with telecom firms for the rollout of 5G data services. Experts cite China's alleged ability to use 5G compatible equipment to spy on other nations and its closed trade policy as the reason behind the move. 

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"We have written to Cisco, Samsung, Ericsson, Nokia and telecom service providers to partner [with] us in 5G technology-based trials, and have got a positive response," telecom secretary Aruna Sundararajan was quoted as saying by news agencies.

"We have excluded Huawei from these trials," she said when asked if it was due to security reasons.

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Indian Telecom Experts, while supporting the Indian government's decision, opined that Chinese companies were highly capable of spying.

"Chinese companies ZTE and Huawei were earlier banned by Australia and USA, so India has rightly taken this decision of not inviting them to partner in 5G trials in the national interest. These companies are being seen as agents of the Chinese military and it is apprehended that their equipment may be vulnerable to Chinese snooping activities," Virag Gupta, an advocate and cyber law expert, told Sputnik. 

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Meanwhile, commenting on the Indian government's move, China sought a level playing field to Chinese enterprises. 

"The Chinese government always encourages its enterprises to abide by international rules and local laws when pursuing economic cooperation overseas. We also hope that the relevant country could offer a level playing field, transparent and fair environment to Chinese enterprises," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said on Wednesday.  

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The Indian government had constituted a high-level task force to develop the 5G ecosystem in the country. In the next 5-7 years, beside an early deployment of 5G services in the country, the government aims to create a globally competitive product development and manufacturing ecosystem covering 50 percent of the Indian market and at least 10 percent of the global market.

India has also established a $77 million 5G testbed to support service providers developing 5G products and services. In the past few months, members of the task force have had interactions with the armed forces' leadership on the subject of enhancing the self-reliance of the Indian defense forces in critical advanced technologies.

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Earlier in 2010, India had banned Chinese telecom equipment, eventually allowing it only after China agreed to stringent security checks. Similarly, since 5G technology is new to India, it looks like the government wants to proceed with trusted partners.  

"We have to understand that it is not a simple progression from 4G technology to 5G technology. 5G is a totally different technology with high strategic significance. Whatever happened in the past is history," BK Syngyl, a former CMD of VSNL, told Sputnik.

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In January this year, India's then junior minister for information technology, Alphons Kannanthanam, had warned that devices imported from a "not-so-friendly country" could have spying devices attached to them while advising the government to reassess its procurement policy, which currently emphasizes cost factors over security concerns.

Nevertheless, Chinese firms have made strong inroads into India's growing mobile phone and data market in the last few years. India permits up to 100 percent foreign direct investment in the telecom sector, but it requires approval from a government board. The board regularly checks investor profiles, including whether the entity belongs to a friendly or unfriendly country. Despite these checks, Chinese firms invested an estimated $2 billion in 2017 in India.

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"It may be a strategic decision. It can also be eyeball to eyeball engagement to say: we have the market and if you want a share in our market do it at our terms," BK Syngyl added.

The growth of Chinese brands in India is expected to continue despite strong restrictions, as almost 500 million smartphones are expected to be sold over the next few years in India.

The views and opinion expressed by the speakers in this article are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the position of Sputnik.

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