India may advise local telecom operators to shun equipment made by China’s Huawei Technologies Co. and ZTE Corp., people with knowledge of the matter said, as relations between the neighbors deteriorated amid a border dispute.
The government is also planning to review existing contracts of state-owned Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd with Chinese companies, the people said, asking not to be identified as the matter is under discussion. The telecom ministry has approached private companies including Bharti Airtel Ltd., Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd., and Vodafone Idea Ltd. on their use of Chinese network equipment, they said. A telecom ministry spokesperson was not immediately available for a comment.
Huawei, the wireless network giant designated by U.S. Federal Communications Commission as a national security threat and blocked from selling its equipment in the U.S. and some other markets, is betting on customers for its 5G gear in India, the largest mobile-phone market outside China. On Monday, India barred 59 Chinese apps, days after a bloody border standoff that resulted in the death of 20 Indian troops and an unknown number of casualties on the Chinese side.
Equipment makers from China, including Huawei, have been eyeing a dominant role in securing contracts for 5G rollout in India after they were allowed to participate in trials. India had so far resisted moves to join the call by the U.S. and others for a ban on these companies from supplying equipment for the superfast networks seen as essential to developing factory automation, autonomous driving and other artificial intelligence applications.
The telecom ministry met the private operators recently and sought their views on the impact of banning Chinese equipment on costs for roll out of their proposed 5G networks, the people said. It also wanted to figure out whether non-Chinese manufacturers were capable of fulfilling demand from such equipment. As for the state-run players, they were directed to stick to Indian manufacturers for 4G services, provided their quality matched the globally accepted standard.
The move resonates a nationalistic fervor that has been whipped up domestically ever since the border tensions. It has now lead to a call for reducing dependence on Chinese products and denying their large corporations from gaining a foothold in the fastest growing telecom market in the world.
India on Monday banned ByteDance Ltd.’s viral short video service TikTok and 58 other Chinese apps, citing threats to its sovereignty. The banned services included e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s UC Web, social media leader Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s WeChat and Baidu Inc.’s map and translation platforms.
The potential ban comes at time when India is seeking to raise $84 billion this year from a sale of airwaves — most of it for the new technology tipped to revolutionize connectivity.