Huawei’s global woes may impact India telecom business

Huawei India backhaul
Photo by Klingsup

Problems for Huawei are set to escalate in India as its two main telecom operator partners – Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea – have reportedly given signals that they may opt for other vendors if the supply chain issues associated with the Chinese telecom gear vendor are not resolved in the coming months.

According to local reports, Bharti Airtel chief technology officer Randeep Sekhon indicated that the country’s second-largest telecom operator is closely monitoring the situation. “…to be fair, there are enough suppliers in the world, and new suppliers are coming in. India should be fine with it,” Sekhon was quoted as saying.

Bharti Airtel has already reduced dependency on Huawei, having given a new contract to Ericsson for 4G network in Rajasthan last year. Huawei, which was providing 4G technology to Airtel in Rajasthan, now serves the telco in just three circles.

Vodafone Idea, on the other hand, works with Huawei for 4G network in seven telecom circles. 

The ailing telecom operator hasn’t given any official indication to reduce dependency on Huawei’s technology. However, it is said to be closely monitoring the situation. It may come up with a ‘plan B’ in case of any disruption to Huawei’s supplies to India, as per media reports. 

The fresh concerns came after Taiwanese Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) reportedly stopped taking new orders from Huawei to comply with new United States export controls. The move is expected to impact Huawei’s manufacturing and supply of telecom equipment globally.

Additionally, the US government also added Huawei’s India subsidiary along with other foreign subsidiaries in its export control entity list to bar the company to American technology.

The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), which represents Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio downplayed the concerns and said that any immediate impact on Indian network is unlikely since telcos and vendors typically plan inventory for six-to-nine months in advance. 

Huawei’s Chinese counterpart ZTE also gained new business from Vodafone Idea and provides 4G technology to the telecom operator in five circles. It also works in Bharti Airtel in three telecom circles and state-run telco BSNL at a much bigger scale. 

The Indian government had late last year allowed Huawei and ZTE to participate in the country’s 5G field trials, but hasn’t decided on allowing these vendors to be involved in commercial 5G deployments.

All three private telecom operators submitted applications to conduct 5G field trials with Huawei, Ericsson, Nokia, and ZTE.

“Until now, the Indian government has taken a neutral and level playing approach for Huawei and is not discriminating basis the origin of the company…we must go forward on that basis and leaving the issue at government hands for them to decide,” Rajan Mathews, director-general at COAI was quoted as saying.

Due to the curbs imposed by the US government, Huawei’s smartphone business has also come to a standstill in India. The company sells smartphones under Huawei and Honor brands. Earlier this month, Honor launched its first smartphone, Honor 9X Pro, without Google Mobile Services (GMS) support, which offers popular Google services like Maps, Gmail, and Play Store.

In India, Huawei is aiming to bring 5000 mobile applications to its HMS or Huawei Mobile Services and is working with top developers in India. It has also onboarded 95% of 150 top apps used in India.

Huawei is said to be offering an incentive of up to $20,000 to Indian application developers to integrate their apps with HMS or AppGallery through its $1-billion global fund, which was announced last year.

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