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Telcos Ask DoT To Defer Deadline To Test Gear Imports

India’s top mobile service providers have asked the department of telecommunications (DoT) to defer the April 1 deadline for mandatory testing and certification of imported network equipment due to a paucity of labs to undertake such in-country screening.

They are likely to urge DoT and its technical wing, the telecom engineering center (TEC), to instruct customs authorities not to insist on the required certification to preempt imported 3G and 4G equipment worth billions of dollars from getting stuck and delaying network rollouts and expansion after April 1. Mobile operators import an estimated $6-7 billion of network gear annually, primarily for 4G networks, from vendors such as Ericsson, Nokia, Huawei, Samsung and ZTE.

“We’ve requested the authorities that the requirements of mandatory testing and certification of telecom equipment should not be implemented until sufficient test labs are established in India and all related technical and procedural challenges have been addressed by the government,” Rajan Mathews, director general of the Cellular Operators Association of India, which represents Vodafone Idea, Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio, told.

Implementation of the testing and certification norms, he said, has “a very high dependency” on the availability of a robust test labs ecosystem. Their current unavailability can prevent timely testing, which could hold up imports and deployment of network elements, delaying expansion of networks and adversely impacting the business interests of all stakeholders.

A senior TEC official conceded there are “only 33 such labs now and that India would need at least a 100-odd to meet the national requirement” of mandatory testing and certification of telecom equipment at current import volumes.

However, he expects the screening ecosystem to evolve rapidly as “at least 30-40-odd new test labs are in the pipeline.”

In the absence of a testing ecosystem, the companies urged DoT and TEC to pave the way for early mutual recognition agreements (MRA) between India and other countries for testing and certification of telecom gear.

The TEC official said the processing of MRA pacts is undertaken by the commerce ministry.

The DoT issued the testing rules in September 2017 and implementation was scheduled in October 2018.

The deadline was deferred twice, initially to January 1, 2019, and subsequently to April 1, in the absence of adequate test labs. A third extension seems imminent with little changed at the ground level. The TEC official did not comment on the possibility of a deadline extension.

Mathews said telcos have urged the government to encourage a self-certification regime in line with the US and the European Union, where vendors undertake to certify compliance with standards specified by a government.

“The validity of such self-declarations can always be verified by the authorities any time,” he said.

In the interim, telcos have urged the government to consider the global certification of imported telecom devices as long as they are valid internationally.―Newsfeed

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