Connect with us

Daily News

Policy | India Must Weigh In The Risks China And Google Pose In Telecom

For more than two decades, India’s telecom policy has aimed to provide cheap wireless services and affordable handsets for the masses. It has been laudable and paid off handsomely. Today, the country has more than a billion mobile phone users, and over 400 million smartphone users.

With the impending arrival of next generation 5G wireless networks, it might be time to shift tack.

India is no longer a poor country that needs to focus exclusively on affordability, and indeed drive many telecom companies into the ground. Instead, it’s time for a rising nation to seriously consider strategic risks, notably from exposure to telecom gear from China, and perhaps the near-total reliance on Google’s Android operating system.

Backdoor threats

India is not alone in being pressured by the United States to bar Huawei from its 5G networks on account of perceived national security risks and the remote possibility that Beijing could invoke a national law to access all data held by the Chinese company. So far, neither the US, nor anybody else, has found evidence of any malicious backdoor in Huawei’s gear in use across the world.

A Bloomberg investigation found at least one in Huawei’s Vodafone network deployed in Italy, but many experts dismissed the ‘backdoors’ as a routine bug. Huawei has consistently offered countries, including India, a ‘no backdoor’ pact — meaning it would guarantee data and network integrity. However, Beijing has not offered an equivalent sovereign guarantee, a demand voiced by some European countries.

Ignoring ‘risks’

Nevertheless, the Chinese telecom gear manufacturer is recognised as the winning company. It has the most-advanced 5G technology and is also the least expensive, compared with rivals, such as Nokia or Ericsson. It is no wonder countries across the world are leaning towards Huawei, ignoring perceived risks. Even Britain, US’ strongest ally, and France have signalled their intention to allow Huawei in its 5G networks, only barring it from the ‘core’ parts. Additionally, the head of UK’s National Cyber Security Centre has said its review of Huawei gear found no “evidence of malevolence” and that the UK has the capability to manage the risks of deploying Huawei equipment.

India is additionally pressured by China, a country with which we have several border disputes and the friend of Pakistan. If a recent report is true, China last month issued a stark warning to the Indian envoy in Beijing, threatening retaliation against Indian businesses in China if Huawei were to be barred.

The Modi government has yet to reveal its hand but the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), an affiliate of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has for many months now cited risks of Chinese domination of telecom networks. On August 18, the outfit last week issued a more dire warning, saying: “information dominance” lies at the core of China’s military strategy and India lies fully exposed.

What is India to do?

The SJM’s solution for a fully-indigenous 5G implementation is unrealistic. The other recommendation, reportedly by a member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s National Security Advisory Board (NSAB), is to use Indian-made software on foreign hardware to negate risks Huawei’s gear poses. It is hard to see this option as any more practical, given the tight integration of hardware and software in modern networks, and the time it might take to build the software.

India still has two more choices without further delaying the rollout of 5G services.

The first would be to pick Nokia or Ericsson and the likes, regardless of the higher cost, and keep Huawei out. Estimates suggest higher cost of up to 30%. This would lead to sharply higher costs for consumers. The most viable option would be to follow the likes of Britain, which claims arguably the “toughest oversight regime for any country where Huawei operates,” because of its 15-year-long engagement with the Chinese company.

India could keep Huawei away from the ‘core’ of 5G networks, but otherwise allow the Chinese company’s gear in other parts of the network. However, just as Britain’s cybersecurity establishment has insisted to its masters, the decision cannot be a technical one; it is essentially a political call.

Risks the monopolies pose

Alongside, India would do well to review risks posed by two entrenched monopolies in its telecom environment. Of nearly 400 million smartphones in India, every other device is a Chinese brand. This is likely to be maintained when 5G handsets emerge, and could potentially accelerate too. The second monopoly to address is Google’s. Nearly all smartphones in use in India are built on Android. Apple’s iPhones have enjoyed a market share of between 1-2 per cent. Both monopolies pose varied risks from the vast amounts of user and usage data the devices send back to their makers and Google.

The Competition Commission of India (CCI) would have been expected to proactively address such monopolies, but that has hardly been the case despite strong action against Google in Europe. In April, it finally opened a probe of Google’s potential abuse of its dominant position over the mobile operating system, thanks to a personal complaint filed by two of its law interns. Among other things, it would examine Google’s contracts with handset makers.

The CCI has the opportunity not only to examine antitrust issues, but also to control privacy and data-sharing issues that will simultaneously address user data that flows from India to China and to Google.―Money Control


Click to comment

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply

Copyright © 2023 Communications Today

error: Content is protected !!