BSNL to take cautious call on ZTE's 5G network gear selection

NEW DELHI: State-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) will take a careful decision on further extending alliance with Chinese technology vendor ZTE for the rollout of fifth-generation or 5G network in the country, a top official said.

“When it will come to rolling out 5G network, a cautious call will be taken,” BSNL chairman Anupam Shrivastava told ETTelecom, and added that the telecom technology would need to be protected. Shrivastava was responding to threat perception in deploying Chinese telecom gear.

“Should there be a risk in technology, certainly, we won’t go ahead, and as long as it is indigenous and has no hazard in putting it up, we can advance,” the top BSNL official added.

BSNL, being a public sector entity, awards contract to vendors through a transparent tendering process.

Chinese telecom equipment maker ZTE, which is also at the centre of US president Donald Trump’s trade dominance war with China, was under immense pressure, following snooping concerns, initially raised by the US House Intelligence Committee way back in 2012.

The Shenzhen-based company is accused of being founded by China’s Ministry of Aerospace for a purpose of spying on other nations.

The company did not revert to a query sent by ETTelecom.

In September 2017, state-owned BSNL has entered into a partnership with ZTE, and the companies had signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to work together on 5G wireless technology for research and knowledge sharing purposes.

The development had, however, come soon after a bitter military standoff between India and China in Doklam over construction roadwork by Chinese that ended in August 2017.

The Indian government has invited ZTE rivals such as Nokia, Ericsson, Cisco and Huawei to undertake 5G field trials and showcase India-specific use cases by early 2019 in partnership with incumbents such as Vodafone Idea, Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and BSNL, for which it plans to allocate free spectrum for a year.

“If there is no risk associated, we should adopt technology advancement from wherever it is coming,” BSNL’s top executive said, adding that the existing noncommercial engagement would continue with the Chinese company.

The government-driven service provider, according to him, is keeping an eye on 2020 for ambitious 5G commercial rollout in tandem with some of the mature markets worldwide.

Even as the Cabinet is yet to give a go ahead to BSNL’s 4G rollout proposal, the state-driven telco has already awarded telecom gear contract to controversial Chinese company in addition to Finnish Nokia Networks in 10 licensed service areas (LSA) each.

ZTE has also implemented second generation (2G) technology for the state-controlled operator, and in 2012, it had bagged GSM deal for more than 10 million subscribers that include supply, installation, engineering and annual maintenance from BSNL.

Shrivastava however, said that similar Chinese firm alliances also exist with private sector telcos such as Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel, and according to him, BSNL regularly carries out security audits to make telecom network foolproof.

“We have all security features that take care of any abuse or malware. We have a system in place that sanitizes networks and have not come out with any single instance yet,” the BSNL official added.


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