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US-Huawei dispute looms over India’s 5G rollout

Image credit: reuters

The founder of one of India’s largest mobile carriers has voiced his support for the world’s largest telecommunications company, while Washington’s blacklisting of Huawei continues to put pressure on its 5G and consumer business.

Sunil Bharti Mittal, founder and chair of India’s third largest mobile carrier, Bharti Airtel, made an appearance at the World Economic Forum’s India summit in New Delhi. Mittal expressed the view that Huawei should play a part in building India’s 5G infrastructure.

“My view is they should be in play, I really feel they should be in play,” he said.

The Indian government is aiming to begin the rollout of a national 5G network by next year.

Huawei is recognised as a world leader in 5G technology. However, its role in the rollout of 5G networks around the world has been challenged by its antagonistic relationship with Washington. The US government has alleged that Huawei has engaged in trade theft, violated sanctions against Iran, and could be used as a tool for espionage by the Chinese government, rendering it a serious national security concern (Huawei has repeatedly denied this). These allegations have led the US government to add Huawei to the ‘Entity List’ (preventing US companies from working with it without a licence) and to place diplomatic pressure on its allies to block Huawei from their next-generation telecommunications infrastructure.

The UK is due to announce its final decision on the extent to which Huawei may be involved in the rollout of 5G infrastructure in autumn. Mobile carriers in the UK and elsewhere have been turning to hardware built by Nokia and Ericsson in anticipation of possible bans on Huawei’s involvement, although concern has been expressed that their technology is not as advanced as Huawei’s.

“Over the last 10 or 12 years [Huawei] has become extremely good with their product, to a point where I can safely say their product […] is significantly superior to Ericsson and Nokia,” Mittal said. Airtel has been using equipment from Huawei, Nokia, and Ericsson in its 3G and 4G infrastructure.

Mittal added that India should work with Huawei in part to avoid becoming too dependent on western technology companies, giving the Indian government “very little leverage” on the global stage, and that local companies could benefit from collaboration with Huawei.

Huawei India CEO Jay Chen has previously stated that the company did not face any known issues with the Indian government. It is reported to be among six companies that have submitted proposals to participate in 5G trials.

Mittal’s comments came just a day after Wilbur Ross, the US Secretary of Commerce, reiterated that Huawei poses “a genuine security threat” and that the Indian government should take this seriously: “At the end of the day, obviously, India has to make its own decision, but our concerns are security not protectionism,” Ross said.

Mittal directly criticised Ross, stating: “The US advisory is well taken from our point of view, but Indians will have to decide for themselves, given their relationship with China and the larger context.”

The US blacklisting has overshadowed the launch of Huawei’s latest flagship smartphone range – the Mate 30 range – which use the basic, open-source version of Android and do not contain everyday Google apps like Maps, YouTube or Photos. This week, the go-to workaround for installing Google apps on the Mate 30 phones, which rendered the phones almost indistinguishable from other Android voices, was shut down following the publishing of a post on Medium by security research John Wu.

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