New Delhi: The government on Tuesday tightened norms for internet service providers (ISPs), mandating them to buy telecom equipment approved by it because of concerns over national security, in a move that could impact Chinese equipment suppliers. This comes in the wake of the government amending procurement rules for operators on 10 March.
The development will impact companies such as Gas Authority of India Ltd (Gail), Power Grid Corp Ltd, RailTel Corp Ltd, and Oil India Ltd, which hold ISP licences. Starting 15 June, these companies and other ISPs will only be able to procure telecom equipment listed as “trusted products”, which is yet to be finalized by the government-appointed authority.
The decision threatens to deal a blow to Chinese telecom gear makers Huawei and ZTE, against whom security concerns have been raised in some countries. In December, the UK government said installation of Huawei’s 5G equipment will be banned from September 2021, as it seeks to phase out all Huawei networks by 2027. The US has also banned Huawei gear till May on grounds of security risks.
As part of the security conditions, the department of telecommunications (DoT) has added a clause to the ISP License Agreement, saying that the government can impose riders on procurement of equipment on grounds of defence or national security. The government has authorized the National Cyber Security Coordinator (NCSC) to do this and ISPs will have to provide information as and when sought by the authority.
NCSC will notify a list of “trusted sources” along with the equipment that do not threaten India’s national security. It may also name the vendors who will be barred from selling telecom gear, DoT said.
“With effect from 15 June, the licensee shall only connect trusted products in its network and seek permission from the designated authority (NCSC) for upgrade of existing network utilizing telecommunication equipment not designated as trusted products,” DoT said.
“However, these directions will not affect ongoing annual maintenance contracts or updates to existing equipment already inducted in the network as on date of effect,” it said.
The conditions on procuring equipment from trusted sources come ahead of the rollout of the 5G wireless service, which requires large-scale deployment of optical fibre and towers. The government expects the rollout of the technology by the end of 2021. However, this is not likely to happen on a pan-India basis, but in areas where the demand justifies the investments.
The government may also conduct 5G spectrum auction in the next six months, according to a parliamentary standing committee report issued on 8 February. The Centre, which recently concluded the sale of 4G airwaves, did not include bands (3,300-3,600MHz) earmarked for 5G in the auction.