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Chinese firms may  make  it  to ‘trusted’ gear vendors list

Barring Chinese vendors could have cost implications for telcos, especially as India prepares for the rollout of 5G wireless service.Premium
Barring Chinese vendors could have cost implications for telcos, especially as India prepares for the rollout of 5G wireless service.

  • According to an official, DoT will issue the final list of approved manufacturers on a portal that will be launched in June
  • China’s Huawei and ZTE are among a handful of global telecom equipment suppliers that include Nokia Corp, Ericsson and Samsung

Chinese companies could make it to India’s list of “trusted" suppliers of telecom equipment provided they fit the eligibility criteria currently under preparation, said a government official aware of the matter.

India’s national cybersecurity coordinator (NCSC) Lt. Gen. Rajesh Pant (retired) is working on these criteria since December. According to the official cited above, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the department of telecommunications (DoT) will issue the final list of approved manufacturers on a portal that will be launched in June. The portal will also act as a gateway for all suppliers whose equipment telecom operators want to procure. Telcos will be mandated to submit the details of the vendor and its products on the portal, where they can track the progress of their approval process.

“Currently, most service providers buy equipment on an L1 (lowest-bidder) basis. We do not have any form of embargo or condition to procure such gear. We are worried about the procurement of active programmable components such as chips for which we are tightening the rules," the official said.

In December, the Union government said it was working on a list of approved telecom equipment vendors, given growing concerns around cyber threats and cross-border surveillance. Following last year’s Ladakh border conflict with China, where 20 Indian soldiers died, New Delhi banned more than 200 Chinese apps and amended rules for procurement of telecom gear.

China’s Huawei and ZTE are among a handful of global telecom equipment suppliers that include Nokia Corp, Ericsson and Samsung. In addition to the gear vendors, chip or semiconductor manufacturers such as Intel Corp and Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. will also be scrutinized for inclusion in the list of trusted sources, the official said.

Barring Chinese vendors could have cost implications for telcos, especially as India prepares for the rollout of 5G wireless service later this year or early 2022. The official said the changes to the procurement policy and tighter rules are being deliberately implemented ahead of 5G. “Any wireless network has these components — mobile phones/devices, which is the endpoint, RAN (radio access network), transport where optical fibre cable is used, and core, which is where details of subscribers, location register, etc., are stored, making it the most crucial part," the official said.

With the launch of 5G, which offers low latency, or higher speed of communication from one point to another, some of these components will be skipped, as a result of which the core of a network will have direct exposure to cybersecurity threats and attacks, the official added.

If telecom operators or internet service providers want to use equipment supplied by vendors whose names are not on the pre-approved list, they will have to upload the details, including the company and products, on the portal, which will then be verified and approved or rejected for procurement. The company and product details will be verified by various ministries concerned, including home, communications and commerce, on the basis of definition and criteria for trusted sources, the official said.

The Centre for Development of Telematics (C-Dot), the research and development (R&D) wing of DoT, is building the portal.

The NCSC will recommend the names of trusted sources to the National Security Committee on Telecom, which is the final approving authority. The committee will have telecom department officials, industry representatives, academic experts and the NCSC as its members.

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