Beijing’s warning that any move to block Huawei from upcoming 5G operations will have consequences for Indian firms doing business in China should not come in the way of a well-thought-out and independent view on the matter. India is yet to formalise its decision on whether or not to allow Huawei, which is among the world’s biggest telecom equipment manufacturers, in the 5G segment. A high-level committee — headed by the government’s principal scientific advisor, K Vijay Raghavan — is looking at security aspects vis-a-vis Huawei.
At the same time, India should also not get swayed by the US stand of blacklisting Huawei, which has been caught in a geo-political battle, without evidence of security risk that the Donald Trump administration has cited. In fact, the US itself has begun relaxing the clampdown, allowing American technology companies to sell their products to Huawei on a case-to-case basis. Also, many countries around the world, including those in Europe, are going ahead with Huawei in their 5G operations. The picture is mixed elsewhere. While Australia and Japan have blocked it, South Korea and Thailand have implemented Huawei technology for 5G networks in a limited way.
Significantly, a British Parliament committee recently rejected a proposed ban on British telecom carriers using Huawei gear. It said there were no technical grounds for excluding Huawei entirely from the UK's 5G or other telecommunications networks. However, UK telcos exclude Huawei’s gear from “core” parts of wireless networks, as recommended by the committee. While the European Union refused to ban Huawei, it left the decision to member countries.
Apart from overseas influences, India’s decision should be free from internal politics too. Reportedly, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has raised concerns about the operations of Huawei in the country. In the backdrop of multiple levels of pressure, the government must take a well-informed decision, with the ministries of home affairs and external affairs, along with the Department of Telecom (DoT), playing a key role. Indeed, national security is the most important consideration, weighing much more than business and geopolitical factors. In this context, the Chinese giant has reportedly offered to sign a “no backdoor” agreement with the Indian government to allay concerns that it might use its telecom gear for surveillance. It has also repeatedly told the government that the security concerns raised against it have no foundation. The committee should look into the feasibility of such an agreement.
Huawei is believed to price its products lower than its competitors, but this should obviously not be the sole reason to allow the Chinese firm. The 5G trial guidelines are out and non-commercial pilots will begin soon. Six technology firms including Huawei, Ericsson, and Nokia have submitted their proposals for trials, and there’s no indication of any company being blocked. As the guidelines state, Indian entities involved in research and development, and manufacturing; telecom operators; and academia for the purpose of research and experimentation will be given licences for up to two years. In the meantime, telcos have forged partnerships with equipment manufacturers, including Huawei, for the trials. As 5G spectrum auction terms are being finalised for bidding and commercial rollout, an objective and non-discriminatory decision on Huawei will be the right road to take.