Sunday, 13 June 2021

Huawei and ZTE miss out on Indian 5G trials

by Harry Baldock, Total Telecom
Wednesday 05 May 21

The Ministry of Communications gave the green light for telcos to work with various vendors for the upcoming 5G trials, including Nokia, Ericsson, and Samsung, but Huawei and ZTE were not mentioned

The Indian government has announced that it will allow Reliance Industries' Jio Infocomm, Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea, and state-run MTNL to conduct 5G trials over the next six months. Equipment makers cited as taking place in these trials include Nokia, Ericsson and Samsung, but Huawei and ZTE are notably absent. The trials will take place in urban, semi-urban, and rural settings, with the government keen to ensure that “the benefit of 5G technology proliferates across the country and is not confined only to urban areas…

The Indian government has announced that it will allow Reliance Industries' Jio Infocomm, Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea, and state-run MTNL to conduct 5G trials over the next six months. Equipment makers cited as taking place in these trials include Nokia, Ericsson and Samsung, but Huawei and ZTE are notably absent.

The trials will take place in urban, semi-urban, and rural settings, with the government keen to ensure that “the benefit of 5G technology proliferates across the country and is not confined only to urban areas," according to a statement from the government's Press Information Bureau.

This news should come as no real surprise. India’s relationship with China has been strained for some time, coming to a head in May last year when a violent border clash resulted in the death of troops from both sides. Since then, the government has been slowly hardening its stance against Chinese companies, including banning several Chinese apps last year over national security concerns. 
 
When it comes to the conundrum of Huawei’s role within the country’s national telecoms infrastructure, the Indian government’s solution has been one of indirect exclusion, rather than an outright ban. 
 
Back in March, the government announced that it would only allow telcos to purchase equipment from what it described as ‘trusted sources’, suggesting that they would also be compiling a suppliers blacklist. Huawei and ZTE are likely to be included within this list, with the restrictions coming into effect in June. 
 
Thus, while Huawei and ZTE are not formally banned from participating in India’s 5G infrastructure, their future viability is questionable, leading the nation’s operators to prioritise rivals like Ericsson and Nokia.
 
India is a truly enormous telecoms market and related 5G contracts would be a major boost for any operator around the world. But the biggest opportunity here may be for Samsung, who are increasingly looking to increase their share of the 5G market. Last year, the South Korean vendor won a huge $6.6 billion 5G deal with US telco giant Verizon, but their success in other markets, like Europe, has been more muted. A sizable contract in India could represent just the gear shift the company is looking for.
 
Just yesterday, Samsung pledged $5 million in relief funding to help India fight the coronavirus pandemic currently ravaging the country. 
 
Meanwhile, the Indian telcos themselves are looking to get started with their 5G development as soon as possible. Both Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio have previously said that they are ready to begin their rollout as soon as they get permission and spectrum from the government. Indeed, Jio is even seeking to conduct trials using its own, homegrown 5G technology.
 
But the process of gaining 5G spectrum is a difficult one. While a spectrum auction is expected to take place later this year, the timeline is currently unclear, and the details of the auction itself are contentious. The Indian operators have long bemoaned the high reserve prices the Indian government plans to implement for the 5G spectrum, prices which will be some of the highest in the world. 
 
With a highly telecoms sector reeling from both the pandemic, such expense could well be excessive. Airtel has previously suggested that they will simply not bid if prices are not lowered. 
 
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