It’s about time that India thoroughly investigates security concerns around Chinese telecom equipment maker Huawei. While countries such as Australia, New Zealand and the US have imposed a ban on Huawei’s core network equipment, Indian operators continue to buy from the Chinese vendor. This is despite the fact that the Department of Telecommunications has in the past raised concerns over possible bugs in the equipment sold by the Chinese company, but has not taken any action in the absence of any conclusive evidence. Security agencies have also raised fears over the possible presence of embedded spyware or malicious software (‘malware’) that could allegedly be used by the Chinese intelligence to snoop into conversations and data flowing through the Indian network or even shut down communications in Delhi and Mumbai sitting in Beijing. What is worrying though is that the Centre has not taken a view on the issue even though the security agencies have been flagging concerns for over a decade.
Back in 2010 when similar concerns were raised against the Chinese company, the then Cabinet Committee on Security approved the setting up of a ‘Telecom Testing and Security Certification Centre’ (TTSC) and made it mandatory for operators to test all imported equipment. As part of the “safe to connect” telecom project in mid-2010, the DoT was given the task to set up the centre at a cost of ₹50 crore for security certification of all equipment being imported by telecom service providers (TSPs) from October 1, 2013. This deadline has since been extended multiple times and until April 1, 2019, operators were not required to do the mandatory certification. Meanwhile, Huawei has made deep inroads into the Indian telecom network, not just the private operators but also state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd.
It is high time the government settles, once and for all, whether the security-related allegations relating to the use of Chinese telecom equipment are true or if this is a well-coordinated campaign by rivals of China and Huawei. Chinese vendors are known to be aggressive when it comes to pricing. Access to cheaper equipment would help operators offer services at a lower tariff. Huawei has also moved fast on developing efficient technology platforms which is hurting rival players. In the geopolitical sphere, there is a tussle between the US and China for dominance and the emergence of Huawei as a global major could be tilting this battle in favour of the Asian country in the area of communications technology. India should take a decision based on facts. If the security threat is real indeed, let the Centre take the nation into confidence and restrain Huawei from future contracts. At the same time, the policymakers should also act on its stated vision to help local players become an alternative source of high-tech equipment in order to reduce our reliance on imported gear.