New Delhi: The government’s insistence on domestic testing and certification of telecom equipment deployed locally may hinder the aggressive rollout of 4G telecom networks given the lack of adequate labs and other infrastructure, industry officials said.

Aiming to beef up the country’s security and preparedness against cyber attacks and spying, the telecom department, which has been toying with the proposal for almost four years, last month said telecom equipment used by operators will have to undergo testing and get certified by authorised agencies from 1 October.

However, on 27 September, the government extended this deadline by three to six months for testing about 50 kinds of equipment. As of now, equipment such as modem, audio-conferencing equipment, fax machines, WiFi access points, cordless phones, radio and transmission products including microwave, imported or sold in India after 1 January 2019 will be subject to testing within India, while parts such as mobile devices, soft switch, base transceiver station and Internet of Things devices will need to be tested and certified from 1 April.

The extension, the industry feels, is a temporary fix as the required infrastructure in terms of the number of labs and personnel required to carry out this exercise is far from adequate, given India’s size as the world’s second largest telecom market.

“Setting up a lab costs a lot of money," said Rajan Mathews, director general of Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI). “Till now, every equipment manufacturer was getting equipment tested overseas with self attestation for compliance...now government wants to test it independently... If there are no adequate labs and personnel to do testing, then of course (network deployment will be hit)."

While the authorized public sector unit Telecommunication Engineering Centre has eight labs of its own, it has also so far certified 25 private labs across Delhi, Bengaluru, Gurugram and Chennai among other cities to carry out testing and certification. However, 15 of these 25 labs have been certified in the last six months alone.

“The problem is that there is a lot of equipment than labs that can carry this out. Also, not all of them are integrated labs, i.e. a lab that can test and certify all equipment. Most labs can only test certain categories of equipment. Also, the more urgent issue is that microwave needs to be tested from 1 January and the required ecosystem is just not there. How can you run a network without a microwave," a senior official at a telecom gear maker said requesting anonymity.

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