Jun. 2 – The Indian government agreed yesterday to allow the importation of telecommunications gear from China while at the same time implementing new security screening measures, effectively ending an unofficial ban on Chinese telecom vendors.
Equipment from China will now have to be tested and certified by an international security agency such as Canada’s Electronic Warfare Associates, Israel’s ALTAL Security Consulting, or Infoguard based out of the United States, until India’s National Informatics Center (NIC) can set up a dedicated domestic certification and diagnostics lab.
India’s telecom ministry also create a list of “core equipment” that will require mandatory security clearance, such as call servers, firewalls, intrusion detection systems, intrusion prevention systems, LAN switches, media gateways, MSC servers, mobile switching centers, and routers among others.
“DoT is waiting for the home ministry to clear this list of critical core telecom equipment. Security clearance will be required for the items classified as ‘core equipment’ and not their components. The agency will essentially run a thorough check on network equipment to preempt any subversive activity through the installation of malwares, trapdoors, black boxes, etc. Security clearance will not be required for passive equipment and equipment/software that is manufactured or developed in India by Indian-owned manufacturers,” a telecom ministry official told the Economic Times.
India’s decision to lift the trade restrictions came after two days of high level talks among the country’s home and telecom ministries, research and analysis wing, intelligence bureau, and the NIC.
This result comes as a relief to many Chinese vendors like Huawei and ZTE who rely on India for a considerable percentage of their sales, but it is also great news for many Indian telecom companies like Reliance Communications, Tata Teleservices, and Uninor, who rely on low-cost Chinese telecom gear to keep their business models in the black.
The incident began when India’s home ministry voiced concern that telecom equipment manufacturers in China may be embedding spyware technology in their gear exported to India, giving intelligence agencies access to the country’s telecom networks. Top executives from Huawei and ZTE have been in India over the last few weeks assuring government officials that their products do not contain any such malware.
The Indian government denies placing a universal ban on telecom equipment and networks from China, but documents show that the NIC has blocked at least 130 equipment contracts between Indian telecom firms and Chinese suppliers since February. Huawei and ZTE seem to be particularly affected, complaining that India’s communications ministry has not approved any of the contracts they’ve signed with Indian companies since Feb. 18.