India's private operators - Vodafone Idea, Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio - have warned that mandatory local testing and certification of 5G devices will lead to severe shortages. Starting on January 1, 2023, all 5G phones must be tested at accredited local labs before being sold in the country.
They have asked the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to reconsider, adding that the move would also negatively impact overall data consumption and restrict market access, especially in smaller towns and villages.
The biggest concern is that the new rules will create a bottleneck, thwarting India's ambitions of displacing China to become the global mobile handset manufacturing base of choice.
The telcos are preparing to spend a considerable amount in acquiring 5G spectrum and are busy setting up a 5G network. India will likely hold the spectrum auction in May 2022, with a launch likely to coincide with India's Independence Day on August 15. The service providers allege that local testing of 5G devices will seriously impact the widespread adoption of 5G.
The DoT's technical wing, Telecom Engineering Centre (TEC), only recently decided to include 5G devices under Phase 5 of the Mandatory Testing and Certification of Telecom Equipment (MTCTE) program scheduled to start in January 2023.
The program was originally meant only for smartwatches, smart cameras and other wearables.
Telcos form Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI)
In response, Vodafone Idea, Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio, tech giants Apple and Google, and some of the biggest device manufacturers, such as Nokia and Huawei, among others, have come together to form the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI).
The group is urging the DoT to cancel the plans, pointing out the testing is likely to be time-consuming and will also add to the compliance costs for vendors, pushing up prices.
They want the DoT and TEC to allow the mobile industry to remain within the purview of the existing Ministry of IT and Electronics and Bureau of Industrial Standards. This regulatory framework requires consumer electronic products to be registered and conform to India's safety standards.
The COAI also makes the case that keeping the consumer electronics industry separate from TEC's MTCTE program will give the industry a boost by opening doors to investment via the Production Linked Investment (PLI) Scheme and set India on course to become a global leader in mobile handset manufacturing.
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— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading