India’s nationwide network deployment set for disruption – “trusted sources”

network deployment India disrupted
Image by Vitaliy Borkovskiy | Bigstockphoto

Large scale mobile network deployment is set to take a hit in India as telecom operators await approval from the office of the National Cyber Security Coordinator (NCSC), the designated authority to give approvals to gear vendors and their equipment.

Indian telecom operators are reportedly delaying large scale network expansion orders to their partners such as Nokia and Ericsson. A report suggests that the ongoing issue may derail Indian telcos’s 5G network roll out plan.

The Indian government had in March announced setting up the “National Security Directive” to secure the country’s telecom infrastructure by designating a “trusted source” for the purchase of equipment by telecom operators. The new regime, effective from June 15, makes it mandatory for Indian telecom operators to use trusted network equipment from “trusted sources”.

However, the NCSC hasn’t given approvals to any telecom gear vendor in the country.

“…only critical network deployment is taking place after taking approvals. 5-6 weeks might take before we get any clarity. There are teething issues. Certainly, there’s no large product order from telcos since they themselves are seeking clarity,” a source was quoted as saying by the Economic Times.

Fearing imminent delays, both Airtel and Vodafone Idea had placed some “small-scale” network equipment orders before June 15.

Another person informed the publication that equipment makers are currently busy with furnishing data related to their companies and products. “All vendors are concerned about the process in the absence of any feedback or inputs. We need to give information regarding seven categories for trusted products,” the person said.

Notably, Chinese gear vendors Huawei and ZTE are yet to get credentials of the “trusted telecom” portal to apply for approvals. Reports suggest that both vendors are undergoing the

documentation processes to nominate their “India Registered Entities” to interact with the designated authority.

Once all details are furnished, the NCSC will make an assessment of the vendors and the sources of the components to determine trusted sources and trusted products which will be then intimated to the vendor concerned and the applicant telecom operator to make their procurements.

Without NCSC approval, Indian telecom operators can’t deploy any equipment in the country. Under the process, telcos themselves are required to access the trusted telecom portal and specify the telecom products they wish to procure and from which vendors.

The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), which represents Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea, held a meeting with vendor partners to discuss the ongoing issues.

“We are asking for another meeting with the authority along with our member partners. We had received some assurance during our last meeting on clarifications. We have received some clarifications on the process since then but there hasn’t been any approval,” COAI director general S P Kochhar, DG, COAI was quoted as saying by the publication.

Interestingly, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea had already awarded fresh expansion contracts worth $40-$60 million to Huawei. While Airtel’s contract was for its national long-distance optical transport network, Vodafone Idea had placed orders for radio and transport network expansion. 

Media reports suggested that these contracts were finalised in March just before the Indian government amended telecom licenses for telecom operators, mandating them to use equipment only from trusted sources from June 15, 2021.

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