Huawei Research and Development Centre in Bangalore, India. Photo: AFP
The Huawei Research and Development Center in Bangalore, India. Photo: AFP

Chinese telecom gear-maker Huawei is making an all-out effort to be in the reckoning for the 5G network rollout in India, the world’s second-largest market for mobile-phone services.

In the latest development, Department of Telecommunications secretary Anshu Prakash had a look at what the Chinese giant had to offer in terms of 5G technology at the India Mobile Congress in New Delhi.

“The Telecom secretary made a visit on Wednesday to our demonstration area, where we displayed our innovative 5G technology,” a Huawei executive told the Economic Times.

His visit was closely followed by a group of bureaucrats from other departments such as defense and commerce.

Huawei has faced claims that its products are a security risk because they are vulnerable to espionage, which has led to the US blacklisting the company and forcing technology giants such as Google and Cognizant to sever ties with the Chinese conglomerate.

However, the firm hopes that the Modi government will take a different stance on the issue. Washington has been exerting pressure on India to bar the Chinese company from its 5G deployments, while Beijing has warned New Delhi of consequences if Huawei is barred.

The Department of Telecommunications agreed to Chinese telecom gear-makers to take part in the three-day event ahead of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s recent visit to India.

The department clarified, however, that the invitation to this event was no indication that the government had given permission for Huawei to take part in 5G field trials. They said the two matters were separate issues.

Huawei saw the invitation as a positive step. “The trust, confidence and the support being given by the government of India during this critical juncture, it is very important for us. This will send a strong signal to the industry,” Huawei India CEO Jay Chen said.

Airtel backs Huawei

The Chinese telecom company also recently got strong backing from Bharti Airtel chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal. In a discussion at the India Economic Summit, organized by the World Economic Forum, Mittal stoutly defended Huawei when US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross called on India to boycott the company.

Mittal praised the telecom gear manufactured by Huawei, claiming it was superior to products of European suppliers Nokia and Ericsson.

“Huawei, over the last 10 or 12 years, has become extremely good with their products, to a point where I can safely today say their products – at least in 3G, 4G that we have experienced – are significantly superior to Ericsson and Nokia without a doubt. And I use all three of them,” Mittal said.

No takers for 5G

India is planning to auction 5G airwaves next year, even though Bharti Airtel and rivals Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio Infocomm are reluctant to bid for the spectrum because of their stretched balance sheets.

Industry observers said the telecom sector in India, which is dominated by these three players, is loaded with debts of about 7 trillion rupees (US$98 billion).

The Telecom Department is reportedly working on providing a two-year holiday on payment of spectrum charges for these three companies.

This would provide relief of about 400 billion rupees ($5.6 billion) in total to the three companies. A request in this regard was made by Vodafone Idea two years ago.

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