India may ask private telecom operators like Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea to discontinue their engagements with Chinese telecom equipment makers like Huawei and ZTE, having already made up its mind to to block ZTE's participation in BSNL's upcoming 4G expansion tender. The development follows the skirmishes on the Indo-China border in the Galway valley in Eastern Ladakh.
Both Huawei and ZTE work with Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea in several telecom circles
Huawei works with Vodafone Idea in even circles, while ZTE works in five circles. Both gear vendors' association is limited to three circles each with Bharti Airtel. “We will likely also not allow private operators to use Chinese gear in the future and will encourage domestic telecom equipment makers," a top government official was quoted as saying by the Economic Times.
Notably, both Vodafone India and Airtel have publicly supported Chinese vendors and their technology. Last year, Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman of Bharti Enterprises, which owns Bharti Airtel, said that Huawei's technology was superior to products of Ericsson and Nokia.
According to reports, the absence of Chinese vendors from India's 4G networks could increase the equipment procurement cost by 10-15%.
The US government has been pressurising India to bar Chinese gear vendor Huawei from the latter's 5G networks. It alleged that Huawei was capable of using backdoors to steal personal data. Countries like Australia, New Zealand and Japan have already barred Chinese vendors from their respective 5G networks. The UK, which had allowed Huawei’s participation in the country’s 5G networks, is now preparing a plan to remove Huawei from the nation’s 5G networks by 2023.
Interestingly, the Indian government had previously allowed Huawei and ZTE's participation in the country's commercial 5G field trials. Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio had submitted applications to conduct trials with all gear vendors, including Huawei and ZTE. BSNL also submitted application to conduct 5G field trial with ZTE.
India is currently preparing a plan to avoid Chinese companies like Huawei, ZTE and UTStarcom from supplying equipment, parts, and components for BSNL and MTNL’s 4G networks. Media reports said that the government will soon announce its decision officially in this regard.
ZTE and UTStarcom already work with BSNL for its phase eight network expansion. ZTE has recently sought Rs 1,000 crore from BSNL in outstanding network-related dues.