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Mandatory testing looms large as a delay factor for 5G services rollout

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is hammering out a solution with telcos and equipment makers on the contentious requirement of mandatory testing and certification of key network equipment within the country from July 1st.

After meetings with stakeholders, the DoT is looking at various options which include an extension of the deadline or keeping the deadline in abeyance till enough third party testing labs are available.

Telcos and equipment makers have made it clear that the July 1 deadline, if implemented, will seriously jeopardise the roll out of 5G services from the end of this year as there are not enough third party labs to test 4G/5G products. DoT officials have acknowledged the issue.

Under the new testing and certification rules, equipment such as microwaves, radios, routers and so on – which can be used for both 4G and 5G networks – cannot be imported or sold without first being tested by selected third party labs. They also have to be certified by the Telecommunication Engineering Centre on safety, emission and other technical parameters.

But with labs still not equipped to handle such testing, telcos fear that orders to buy or import network equipment will either come to a standstill or be delayed by 6-12 months.

The industry has come up with varied proposals for solving the problem. The Telecom Equipment Manufacturers Association (TEMA) feels that mandatory testing rules is irrelevant and should be done away with.

TEMA has argued that with the new ‘trusted product’ policy, all telecom products procured by telcos are already covered. Any remaining items can be brought under the ambit of the Bureau of Indian Standards.

The Cellular Operators Association of India has suggested the deadline be extended for six months. It believes there should be enough labs to handle at least 60 per cent of the products which will be required in deploying 4G/5G.

As for leading telecom equipment makers, they have suggested an extension too, ranging from six months to 18 months.

Sources say the DoT had offered that at least one third party labs with all the facilities will be up and running from July but the telcos said this would be totally inadequate.

Equipment makers say that even if the 5G auction ends by July and firm orders are given to operators, they will not be able to import equipment without the mandatory certification.

“It simply means that, even in the best case scenario, you will place imported orders only in December and considering the shortage of chips and order backlog, it could take some more months. So the whole process of 5G roll out could get derailed,” said a telecom equipment maker executive.

The matter came to a head after the DoT, in a consultation with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY), in an order dated April 27, exempted mobile handsets, smart watches, smart cameras, and servers, among others, from the mandatory testing and certification rules.

The companies making these items had protested that they were already being certified by the Bureau of Indian Standards on the same parameters.

Many equipment makers say that while MEITY has pushed for, and recieved exemption, for mobile devices, the same should have been extended to them too. Business Standard

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