BSNL Blocks Huawei, ZTE Bids
BSNL is inviting bids for a 5.5 million-line expansion of its mobile network in the Northern and Eastern zones, and has specified that only Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), and Nokia Networks may bid for the contract.
No financial details have been made public, but based on previous tenders it's likely this GSM expansion deal will be worth around US$450 million to $500 million.
The decision is likely to speed up BSNL's chances of purchasing and deploying the new equipment it needs. The Indian authorities currently require all operators to submit their equipment purchase plans to the government for approval because of security concerns over technology sourced from China, a process that has left India's network operators in limbo, as the Ministry of Home Affairs has not approved any contracts between Indian operators and Chinese vendors since February. Excluding Huawei and ZTE from its plans should ensure speedy approval for BSNL's expansion plan. (See India's DoT Denies Blanket Ban on Chinese Gear and India Watch: Vendor Lockdown.)
The move marks a dramatic turnaround in fortunes for Huawei in particular. BSNL had originally chosen Huawei as one of only two suppliers for its mammoth 93 million-line GSM tender but was forced to scrap that expansion program earlier this year. (See BSNL Scraps Monster Mobile Tender.)
BSNL's example might be followed by other operators, which may also look to exclude the Chinese suppliers from new deals so that their expansion plans don't get held up by the Indian authorities.
But both Huawei and ZTE are working hard behind the scenes to allay the security fears of the Indian authorities, and there is speculation in the market that the current issues may be sorted out by June 15. Industry sources say Huawei and ZTE have both offered to build their own manufacturing plants in India so that any equipment they provide will have been manufactured locally. Such a move, however, would impinge on the duo's ability to offer much lower prices than their rivals. (See Huawei Seeks Talks Over Indian Lockdown and ZTE Embarks on Indian Charm Offensive.)
— Gagandeep Kaur, India Editor, Light Reading