The Indian government has handed out the perfect new year gift to the main Chinese network infrastructure vendors, Huawei and ZTE, by allowing them to participate in the upcoming 5G trials.
India's telecom minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, confirmed earlier this week that all vendors were being invited to participate in planned 5G trials, for which the government would be issuing 5G spectrum.
The go-ahead is currently only for trials, but the decision bodes well for the potential future participation of the Chinese vendors in 5G deployments across the country.
The Indian government believes the trials, which were originally supposed to be held in 2019, will help in the development of the country's 5G ecosystem. The Indian telcos will be conducting 5G tests with different vendors: Bharti Airtel plans to conduct trials with Nokia, Huawei and Ericsson, while Vodafone Idea wants to partner with Ericsson and Huawei. Reliance Jio, which currently works primarily with Samsung, has applied to conduct 5G tests with the South Korean vendor.
India's telcos have been asking for clarity from the government regarding the participation of both Chinese vendors in 5G activities. Initially only a handful of vendors, including Cisco, Ericsson, NEC, Nokia and Samsung, received invitations to participate in the 5G trials. However, the Indian government did indicate its keenness to extend the invitation to Huawei when it allowed the vendor, and rival ZTE, to conduct 5G tests at the India Mobile Congress event in October 2019.
The inclusion in India's 5G trials is of particular significance for Huawei, which faces trading restrictions in several countries, including Australia, New Zealand and the US, because of security concerns. The US has been lobbying the Indian government to exclude Huawei from the 5G market but, equally, China has been lobbying for Huawei and ZTE to be given equal opportunities in India's 5G market.
The efforts of the US authorities to restrict Huawei's business had an impact on the vendor's sales in 2019, though with expected full-year revenues of almost $122 billion it is still by far the largest supplier of telecoms infrastructure globally and the number two player in the smartphone market.
During the past few years, Chinese vendors have provided crucial support to India's service providers as they attempted to manage their costs and keep tariffs under control. Chinese network equipment is cheaper than the equivalent offerings from Western rivals, enabling traditional telcos to offer services in a market with one of the lowest average revenue per user (ARPU) figures in the world.
The exclusion of Huawei and ZTE from forthcoming 5G deals would almost certainly result in an increase in capital expenditure by India's telcos: Sunil Bharti Mittal, the chairman of Bharti Enterprises, the parent company of Airtel, spoke out in support of Huawei during a recent event organized by World Economic Forum, stating that Huawei's equipment was superior to that of its main European rivals, Ericsson and Nokia.
— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading