Telecom and Postal Sector – Spectrum Allocation, Call Drops, Predatory Pricing, etc

Explained: Huawei controversy and 5G rollout in India


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : 5G technology

Mains level : Huawei Row

  • The telecom minister has said that India would conduct field trials for 5G telephony in the first 100 days of the new government.
  • One question that has been asked is whether Chinese equipment manufacturer Huawei will be able to participate in the trials.
  • Huawei was blacklisted by the US government for American companies to do business with after it was alleged that the company shared data with the Chinese government through the backdoor.

Why did US blacklist Huawei?

  • Huawei is the world’s largest maker of telecommunications equipment and the No. 2 vendor of smartphones, ahead of Apple Inc.
  • However, notwithstanding its dominance, the US has effectively banned Huawei from selling its products after a 2012 congressional report stated that Huawei could be a security risk.
  • According to the US, Huawei’s owners have close links with the Chinese military and, as such, the company cannot be trusted with data.
  • The treatment of Huawei has become a massive reason for further straining the already fraught diplomatic relations between the US and China.

India stand on the Huawei controversy

  • Following Huawei’s blacklisting several countries were asked to take a stand on whether or not to allow the company to operate.
  • Certain countries such as the UK did not follow the US and cited benefits to operators from Huawei’s cost-efficient technology as the reason behind not banning the firm.
  • While India is yet to take a stand on whether or not to allow Huawei in 5G trials, officials at the telecom department have indicated that a decision will be taken in consultation with the MHA and MEA.
  • Huawei, however, has said that it is ready to sign a “no-backdoor” agreement with the Indian government and telecom companies to ensure that no snooping is allowed on its network.

Where does India stand on the rollout of 5G vis-a-vis other countries?

  • Deliberations are still on whether to give spectrum for 5G in the 25 GHz and 28 GHz bands.
  • This is one of the factors causing a delay in the auction of airwaves necessary for 5G deployment.
  • In February last year, Airtel and Huawei conducted a lab trial for 5G during which a user throughput of 3 Gbps was achieved. However, not much has moved since then.
  • A committee of the telecom ministry recently cleared the proposal to allow few Indian companies to conduct 5G spectrum trial.

What happens after field trials are conducted?

  • Field trials allow operators and equipment makers to prove that the network they have built in a laboratory also works outside in a field.
  • Even after conducting the field trials, operators will have a long way to go before commercial rollout primarily because of the lack of availability of the necessary spectrum.
  • Some telecom companies, however, have questioned the need for rolling out 5G in India given that focus is still on the propagation of 4G services, especially in the hinterlands of the country.
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