Bharti Airtel Ltd chairman Sunil Mittal on Thursday praised the telecom gear manufactured by China’s Huawei, and said they were superior to products of European suppliers Nokia and Ericsson.
Mittal’s stout defence of Huawei came after US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross reiterated that India should refrain from awarding contracts to the company to roll out 5G networks. Huawei is facing the heat in the US over various charges, including alleged fraud and evading Iran sanctions, besides being suspected of espionage.
“Our concern is based on our desire, hope that our geopolitical partner India doesn’t inadvertently subject itself to untoward security risks. That’s the nature of our concern. At the end of the day, obviously India has to make its own decision. But our concerns are security and not protectionism," Ross said.
Mittal was participating in a panel discussion on the first day of the two-day India Economic Summit organized by the World Economic Forum (WEF).
“Huawei, over the last 10 or 12 years, has become extremely good with their products to a point where I can safely today say their products at least in 3G, 4G that we have experienced is significantly superior to Ericsson and Nokia without a doubt. And I use all three of them," Mittal said.
Mittal said Huawei had left him surprised with the manner in which it scaled the technology curve to ensure efficient use of spectrum with minimal power consumption. He said the US pushback had resulted in the Chinese company opening up its technology to others, an outcome that could come India’s way too to benefit its local companies.
“They (Huawei) should be in play; I really feel they should be in play. India must use this as a leverage. There are lots of open issues with China. India must take full advantage of that, (instead of) opening it to many other western companies, (where) our country (has) very little leverage. I would rather have this leverage today because it is an important part," he added.
Mittal said India should leverage its population and geographical proximity to China to extract the best deal for its trade with Beijing. “India will have to decide for itself its relationship with China on a larger context. India and China are big trade partners, they are neighbours, they have a huge population to serve. And, all I would say is that, India will take this advice carefully, but the decision will have to be taken politically."
Huawei is the world’s leading developer and maker of 5G technology equipment, followed by Ericsson and Nokia from Europe, and South Korea’s Samsung. China has surged ahead in the adoption of 5G technology, a critical backbone for rolling out new-age infrastructure such as the Internet of Things and machine-to-machine communication systems.
Security concerns continue to swirl around 5G technology offered by Huawei, amid fears that such smart networks could expose the devices and equipment used by unsuspecting users to more espionage and hacking attacks.
India is planning to auction 5G airwaves next year, even though Bharti Airtel and rivals Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio Infocomm are reluctant to bid for the spectrum because of their stretched balance sheets. Airtel, India’s third largest mobile services provider by the number of subscribers, had a net debt of ₹1.16 trillion as of June-end.
There are heightened fears in India over installing critical 5G equipment that is made in China even as Huawei has been a supplier to Bharti and state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd for a several years