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Chinese telecom giants could be out of game in India

Companies or suppliers not trusted by the experts committee would not be allowed to do business with Indian telecom service providers

Chinese telecom giants Huawei and ZTE could be potentially out of the game in India with the government set to begin formulating an action plan on the implementation of 'National Security Directive on Telecommunication Sector'on Thursday.

With an aim to protect India's essential national security interests, a committee headed by the Deputy National Security Advisor (Dy NSA) will soon clear all equipment and gadgets, including 5G mobile networks and supply chains.

Top sources in the government told IANS that "a meeting of nodal officials of key ministries was called (on January 21) to formulate a strategy to secure India's paramount interest in the field of cyber and telecom security".

Key officials of the Telecom Ministry, Commerce Ministry and the DRDO, along with cyber security experts were called in the all important meeting, sources said, adding that "a meeting was called by the National Security Council Secretariat, but it was all too confidential. Nothing can be revealed further".

The security action plan aims to classify telecom products/equipment and their suppliers under the trusted and non-trusted categories. In simpler words, companies or suppliers not trusted by the experts committee would not be allowed to do business with Indian telecom service providers.

Once implemented, the action plan would make it very difficult for Chinese telecom equipment suppliers like Huawei or ZTE to procure supply orders from the Indian telecom players such as Jio, Airtel or Vodafone Idea.

In fact, Huawei and ZTE have been under global scrutiny for allegedly installing "backdoor" vulnerabilities in a desperate bid to do spying for the Chinese government. In the wake of the India-China border tensions, the government's action plan on telecom front seems much appreciated and awaited by the Central security and intelligence agencies.

The first meeting on the core issue had been called to discuss the methodology to classify trusted products and also to classify trusted contents. Telecom products which would be 'Made in India' and identified as trusted would be given incentives by the government.

There would be technology support for Indian companies which pioneer in the field of telecom equipment. The government wants that all Indian telecom service providers should procure such trusted products to ensure a fool proof mobile network operation.

Commenting on a need of 'trusted products', an official said that the purpose is to maintain integrity of the supply chain security and in order to discourage insecure equipment in the mobile networks.

"Cyber attacks or rather an espionage attack is generally perpetrated through networks and devices. They are also committed through compromised hardware and software components of telecom networks. With increasing use of internet on mobile phones, the risk continues to increase," said the official, adding, "That's why we quickly require a strong telecom security action plan".

Earlier last month, the Cabinet Committee on Security headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi had approved the setting up of a new National Security Directive on the telecommunication sector with an aim to classify telecom products and their sources under the ‘trusted' and ‘non-trusted' categories.

Telecom and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had said on December 17, 2020 that the methodology to designate trusted products will be devised by the designated authority, which is the National Cyber Security Coordinator. Under the new security directives of the government, the telecom service providers would be required to connect new devices which are designated trusted products. The designated authority will make its decision based on the approval of a committee headed by the Deputy NSA.