India mulls replacing Chinese gear in communications networks – reports

India is reportedly considering options to remove Chinese gear in the communications networks.

Gagandeep Kaur, Contributing Editor

May 17, 2024

2 Min Read
Indian flag above a city.
(Source: Shivam Kumar/Pixabay)

The Indian government is exploring replacing the existing Chinese equipment in the country’s telecom networks, according to media reports.

It is unclear what has led the government to consider replacing the Chinese equipment currently used in Indian networks. A few months back, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) had asked the telcos to share details of equipment from untrusted sources being used in their networks. However, they have yet to share this information from the telcos.

Once DoT receives information about the scale of "untrusted" networking gear being used in the networks, the government will decide whether or not to replace the Chinese gear. Other options being considered reportedly include rip and repair, which would mean ripping out and evaluating the equipment from a security perspective, and deploying it again if deemed fit. Another possible solution would be active surveillance of the systems and threat assessment followed by replacement, if required, according to media reports.

The Indian government has been discouraging the use of Chinese gear because of security concerns raised in several countries. The two countries, India and China, also share frosty political ties.

The US government launched a massive "rip and replace" program in 2020 to replace all Chinese or any other unsecured gear in its networks. This program was funded by the US government. Similarly, the UK is also replacing the Chinese gear in its networks.

A few years ago, in 2020, the Indian administration mandated telcos should use only equipment from vendors that have received "trusted source" certification from the government. The Chinese vendors, Huawei and ZTE, are yet to receive this certification. 

If the government does ask the telcos to remove the existing Chinese equipment or gear from untrusted sources, the state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam (BSNL) would also be impacted. Since Chinese vendors are known to provide telecom gear at low rates, it was extensively used by both the government-owned telcos, BSNL and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam (MTNL). Government organizations typically have the mandate to use the lowest-priced gear.

Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea would also be significantly impacted since they have legacy networks in which Chinese equipment plays a significant role. Replacing Chinese gear would therefore likely cause a financial setback to the incumbent telcos, not to mention the possibility of disruption in services. 

Reliance Jio has, meanwhile, claimed on several occasions that it does not use any Chinese components in its network.

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About the Author(s)

Gagandeep Kaur

Contributing Editor

With more than a decade of experience, Gagandeep Kaur Sodhi has worked for the most prominent Indian communications industry publications including Dataquest, Business Standard, The Times of India, and Voice&Data, as well as for Light Reading. Delhi-based Kaur, who has knowledge of and covers a broad range of telecom industry developments, regularly interacts with the senior management of companies in India's telecom sector and has been directly responsible for delegate and speaker acquisition for prominent events such as Mobile Broadband Summit, 4G World India, and Next Generation Packet Transport Network.

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