India's government has granted permission to Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE to participate in the 5G use case demos at India Mobile Congress (IMC) this week.
The development coincided with a visit to India by Chinese President Xi Jinping and is a positive sign for the Chinese players, suggesting they may be included in forthcoming 5G trials planned by India's Department of Telecommunications. Huawei's involvement in those trials had previously looked in doubt amid security concerns about the Chinese vendors.
The 5G trials are likely to be held later this year and authorities have already issued invitations to Nokia, Ericsson, Samsung, Cisco and NEC.
But the government has been under mounting pressure to open doors for Huawei, which faces restrictions in markets including the US and Australia due to concern that its products may contain "backdoors" for Chinese government spies. US authorities appear to have lobbied India's government to impose similar restrictions on Huawei in India's nascent 5G market.
Signs of Indian government support for Huawei at the IMC event are therefore a beacon of hope for the company. And as one of the world's largest telecom markets, India could figure prominently in Huawei's plans.
At IMC, Huawei seems likely to participate in demos with Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea, both of which have ties with the Chinese vendor. Sunil Bharti Mittal, the chairman of Airtel's parent company Bharti Enterprises, recently gave his endorsement to Huawei's equipment, insisting it is superior to products available from Nokia and Ericsson. Support from such a senior industry figure in India is a boon for Huawei.
"Huawei, over the last ten or 12 years, has become extremely good with their products to a point where I can safely say their products at least in 3G, 4G that we have experienced is significantly superior to Ericsson and Nokia without a doubt. And I use all three of them," Mittal is reported to have said while participating in a panel discussion at the India Economic Summit, organized by the World Economic Forum.
India's service providers have good reason to hope there are no restrictions on Huawei. Fitch, a ratings agency, said in a recent report that the Indian telcos' capital expenditure will increase if Huawei is excluded from 5G deals. Its long reputation for competitive pricing has helped to establish the Chinese vendor in low-income markets such as India, allowing operators to market low prices to their own customers. Without Chinese competition, 5G services could turn out to be expensive.
— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading