India First. Reliance Jio and Airtel tie up with non-Chinese majors to keep Huawei away from 5G trials

In what comes as a huge development, it has been reported that India’s leading telecom players, Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio, have shunned Huawei in their 5G rollout plans. According to a media report, while Reliance Jio has tied up with South Korean telecom major Samsung, Bharti Airtel is finalising its agreements to tie up with European tech firms Nokia and Ericsson, for 5G trials. It is important to note here that this move has come in the background of the US banning Huawei and also threatening to impose sanctions on companies that sell or buy the technology.

India has not taken an official call on Huawei as of now. Telecommunications Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad had stated that a call would be taken on Huawei soon after assuming office. However, a decision has been delayed on this issue amidst the ongoing US-China trade war. It is important to mention here that the Chinese smartphone giant which is desperate to show its 5G prowess is very aggressively pushing to get a license to operate in India. In fact, as Prasad told Parliament in June, Huawei is one of the six technology giants who have approached the government for inclusion in 5G trials. As India is yet to take a decision on the company, Chinese officials had earlier met Vikram Misri, the Indian ambassador to China in Beijing and suggested that Indian companies operating in China would face reverse sanctions if the India bans the Chinese giant.

From some initial indications, the government seems hesitant towards Huawei. It must be noted that as per an earlier report, a senior government official told The Indian Express, “Now that there are warnings from China (about reverse sanctions), the Indian government is also expected to adopt a different posture. If this was done through backdoor channels in the normal (diplomatic) course, it would have been better for Huawei. If the government concedes, it will be seen as pandering to Chinese (threats).” This shows the government’s reluctance towards the Chinese technology giant. Moreover, the government will also face pressure from the US not to allow Huawei in.

While India is yet to take decision on the company, the officials are worried over the national security threats posed by the 5G leader Huawei. National Security Advisory Board has already flagged security concerns over Huawei’s 5G technology. “When it comes to security, we cannot take any chances,” said NSAB member V. Kamakoti who is also a professor at IIT Madras. He also made a case for indigenization of 5G technology to make the country secure. The issue of security breach has been very harmful for Huawei in the last few months. Many major markets of Huawei like United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, and Australia have banned Huawei over security concerns. It is relevant to mention here that last month US President Trump had described Huawei as a threat to US national security. In the past, US administration has accused the tech giant of being able to use its telecommunication devices on US soil for spying.

Another argument against Huawei is the fact that there is going to be cut-throat competition among the telecom operators when it comes to 5G services. Huawei being a tech giant and 5G leader will pose a very big challenge for the indigenous players like Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel, and for the same reason, the two have geared up to create a formidable front against Huawei in India. Now, with indications of Huawei being excluded, there will be ample vacuum for the indigenous telecom majors like Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel to fill in within India and probably even overseas, with Huawei being banned in several major markets as stated above. This is going to open up a vast potential for Indian telecom operators. Therefore, while the government is yet to take a final call on Huawei, we are already getting indications about where we are going even as Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel have already shunned the Chinese tech major.

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