Amid a US push for a global ban on Huawei over “security issues” ahead of 5G adoption, India’s telecom tycoon Sunil Bharti Mittal on Thursday threw his weight behind the Chinese firm saying its products are “leading edge” and “superior” to rivals, and asserted that the firm “should be in play” in India.
The US has blacklisted Huawei and is now persuading its allies to block the world’s largest provider of networking gear and the second-biggest smartphone maker, from their new and upcoming mobile networks.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum here, US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said the Trump administration’s opposition to the Chinese company was not about protectionism but “genuine security risks” that go beyond the front-end equipment, percolating to even areas such as upgrades and maintenance.
US concerns are based on its desire and hope “that our geopolitical partner India doesn’t inadvertently subject itself to an untoward security risk,” he said.
The risk, said Ross, is not only on the front-end equipment, but every time vendor interaction is to take place even on maintenance or upgrades.
“Every time there is an interaction with a vendor, there is a potential for a security issue to develop,” Ross said. When his statement was tossed to Mittal, who was on the same panel, the Bharti Enterprise chairman backed Huawei’s technology prowess to the hilt saying the company has in the past 10-12 years become “extremely good” with its products.
“… to a point where I can safely say their products in 3G and 4G that we have experienced, are significantly superior to Ericsson and Nokia. I use all three of them,” Mittal said.
Stating that he had been surprised by Huawei’s technological advancements, Mittal noted that the Chinese company had been able to take its products to a level where it was leading edge. “The power consumption is a fraction of the Europeans, the footprint is small if you have to put it on a tower, and they have powerful leading features… They are clearly leading edge. Now, whether they compromised some American IPs (internet protocols), I don’t know,” he said.
India will take the US’s advisory carefully, Mittal said but added that New Delhi will have to decide for itself its relationship with China in larger context. India and China are big trade partners, neighbours and have huge populations to serve, and a decision will have to be taken politically, Mittal pointed out.
Asked specifically about his views on Huawei and which way India should lean on this issue, Mittal said, “My view is that they should be in play. I really feel they should be in play. India must use this as leverage.”
“Unlike opening it to many other western companies our country and then having very little leverage, I would rather have this leverage today because it is an important part,” Mittal said adding that the benefit of the US’ pushback had been that Huawei has now opened up its technology, offering it to American firms, and may even do so for interested Indian companies.
For Huawei, which has been trying to race ahead of its rivals such as Nokia, Ericsson and Samsung to become the top player in 5G, the US ban cuts it off from the American software and semiconductors it needs to make its products.
While the US hopes countries such as India will shut their doors to Huawei; for the telecom services industry, it is not an easy call since switching to rivals could mean ripping out the Huawei-built 4G foundations they had planned to latch their 5G gear onto.
As Mittal lent his full support to the Chinese equipment maker, Jay Chen, the CEO of Huawei India, in an email statement said that he was pleasantly surprised to hear Sunil Mittal expressing his views publicly on the company technology, solutions and services in this manner.
“We have always been pushed by Bharti management team to do better and improve more under pressure…Today myself, and my whole team humbly feels more obligated to serve Bharti and all our customers from our heart,” Chen added.
Speaking at the WEF event, Ross outrightly rejected the notion that the US’ concerns around Huawei were in any way linked to the advancing the cause of American telecom players. “The notion that our views on Huawei are a function of US protectionism are incorrect,” Ross said.
He added: “The reason we are doing it…we think there are genuine security issues. 5G is different from 3G and 4G…In 3G and 4G, you are able to separate the peripheral from the central part. In 5G that is not possible. In 5G if there is penetration or backdoor, it will infiltrate the whole system. So, the proportionality of risk is considerable,” Ross said.
He added that in a few years, there will be western alternatives that leapfrog in technology. Since 5G is revolutionary and will take time to roll out, the US feels no immediate need to jump into it.
Asked if the offer of transfer of technology could be a solution to the Huawei impasse, Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal said that matter was for his colleague Communications Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to consider.
The central government has already made it clear that it will keep national interest in mind while deciding whether Chinese gear maker Huawei should be allowed to participate in 5G trials in the country.