Huawei says it is willing to partner an Indian company in 5G equipment manufacturing, including transfer of technology, to assuage security concerns. Credit: Handout.

Despite the fact that China and India are locked in a bitter border dispute and a continual war of words verging on military action, China’s Huawei is pressing ahead in India’s 5G market. Huawei has recently already suffered the indignity of being pushed off the top pedestal by OPPO.

The Chinese telecom giant now says it is willing to partner with an Indian company in 5G equipment manufacturing, including the transfer of technology, to assuage any security concerns that India may have — an unprecedented offer, that could open some doors, according to a report by The Economic Times,

“We are now very much open and willing to partner with a local company. We are looking for a local partner and for commercial reasons, we don’t want to disclose any details,” Huawei India CEO David Li told ET in his first media interview since taking over in May.

“We can bring our software or hardware modules and enable a (local) partner to manufacture equipment,” he said.

Li also called on the Indian government to clear the uncertainty regarding Huawei’s participation in 5G trials and deployment, and should consider its “clean” record of the last 20 years before arriving at a decision, he said.

“It is uncertain now… The government wants to address security concerns but that should be based on facts and global standards,” Li said. “We hope the Indian government will give us a level playing field to participate in the (5G) trials.”

Huawei’s new India CEO David Li in a file photo. Image: Twitter

The Chinese telecom company faces allegations from the US and others of involvement in snooping on behalf of the Chinese state, allegations the privately-held firm has consistently denied.

The Indian government has been informally nudging state-run and private telcos to stop sourcing equipment from China, citing reasons of national security. But there has been no official communication or announcement barring Chinese vendors so far, ET reported.

The Indian government though is preparing a list of “trusted sources” under the National Security Directive for the supply of telecom network equipment, ET reported.

Experts say the move is aimed at keeping Huawei and Chinese rival ZTE out of India’s 5G deployment, in line with the US and the UK, which have taken steps to bar the firms from critical infrastructure.

When asked if the company has been consulted as part of the process to identify trusted vendors, Li said, “Our stance is communicated via our customers, industry and directly.

“I think giving operators the choice of the best technologies and competitive advantages will benefit everybody.”

Huawei is also open to setting up a test lab in India, as it has done in the UK and Brussels, but only if others are asked to do so as well, ET reported.

“If the government says everyone can contribute towards setting up a lab, we’re ready to contribute,” he said. “Otherwise, if they ask us alone, it’s very, very costly. Also, there shouldn’t be any kind of discrimination.”

India hopes to become more ‘self-reliant’ through the newest digital technology. Photo: The Times of India / Anindya Chattopadhyay / AFP

The Chinese company said that it has so far invested US$2 billion in India, including $170 million toward a research and development center in Bengaluru.

The company’s manufacturing facility in Chennai stopped production a few years ago due to low demand from Indian telcos.

“We will continue to invest for sure. Internally, we are looking at focussing heavily on R&D. The R&D and the services hold a much higher priority than the manufacturing segment. For the manufacturing bit, we will make the (investment) decisions as long as there is volume,” the top executive said.

Huawei has won deals from Airtel and Vodafone Idea, Li said, adding that the company is hopeful of winning new business from both telecom operators this year.

Huawei competes with European rivals Ericsson and Nokia, South Korea’s Samsung and Chinese rival ZTE for the India market.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration this week amended licenses for companies to sell to Huawei, further restricting the supply of items that can be used with 5G devices, Reuters reported.

The changes could disrupt existing contracts with Huawei that were agreed upon under previous licenses that have now been changed, two of the sources in the Reuters report said.