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India drawing up list of trusted telecom vendors, may bar Chinese firms

The government will draw up a list of “trusted” sources of telecom equipment the country’s telcos can use in their networks, keeping national security in mind, Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said on Wednesday.

“This is a very important decision with respect to national security. There may even be a second list of designated sources from whom no procurement can be done," the minister said at a press conference in Delhi. The decision approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security comes amid the tense military stand-off with China on the Ladakh border.

While the minister did not name any company or country from which sourcing of equipment would not be allowed, according to sources, there is some concern over Indian telecom companies using equipment from Huawei, which the US has accused of spying for China.

A crackdown on equipment made by Chinese firms could keep Huawei and smaller rival ZTE out of the running from future Indian telecoms contracts.

Telecoms providers will have to use new devices which have been approved as trusted products, he said, though he added that the policy does not require wireless carriers to replace gear already being used. "There may even be a second list of designated sources from whom no procurement can be done," said Prasad.

"The cabinet committee on security gives approval for National Security Directive on Telecommunication Sector. Under this, in order to maintain integrity of supply chain security, government will declare a list of trusted sources for benefit of telecom service providers," he said without commenting if the decision could lead to a ban on Chinese vendors. The committee will be headed by India's deputy National Security Advisor and comprise "all stakeholders".

India has banned over 200 Chinese mobile apps and restricted certain investments from that country but earlier in December included Chinese telecom equipment company Huawei in working groups for the rollout of 5G networks in the country.

The cabinet also approved the next round of spectrum auction in March. The department of telecommunications (DoT) plans to sell 2,251 megahertz (MHz) of spectrum. It will sell spectrum in the 700MHz, 800MHz, 900MHz, 1,800MHz, 2,100MHz, 2,300MHz, 2,500MHz bands.

"The conditions of the next spectrum auction will remain the same as the 2016 auction," Prasad said. A notice inviting applications for sale of airwaves will be issued in December..