The telecom ministry has proposed network security audits by external agencies for all telecom operators, and informed the Rajya Sabha about the state of telecom network infrastructure deployment in India. According to the ministry’s information, BSNL, the state-backed telecom operator, has significant network equipment that is sourced from Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE, while fellow state-backed operator MTNL also has Chinese involvement in its network equipment. Specifically, the telecom ministry has revealed that 44.4 percent of BSNL’s mobile network infrastructure is based on ZTE equipment, while 9 percent is sourced from Huawei. For MTNL, 10 percent of its equipment is based on Chinese equipment.
Based on this report, the telecom ministry has informed Rajya Sabha that it has proposed network audits for all telecom companies, and said that under unified licensing norms in the Indian telecom sector, each telecom licensee is expected to undertake audit of their networks. However, this will not be an internal audit. As per recommendations of the Department of Telecommunications, it is slated to be a special security audit of all telecom networks by external audit agencies. The key objective is to identify Chinese equipment players in the Indian telecom space.
The move comes in light of increasing security concerns arising out of China’s cyber espionage activities on India. After USA raised security concerns linked to major Chinese network infrastructure players such as Huawei and ZTE, India has made moves on similar lines. Over the past two and a half months, India has banned over 200 mobile apps that have data and connectivity servers based in China, on basis of reports about data harvesting by China. Following this, reports about private Chinese companies offering surveillance of foreign nations to the Chinese government came to light.
Earlier this week, officials with knowledge of the matter stated that the Indian government is looking to revise the lowest bidder layout of tenders issued by technology companies – giving preference to Indian players and reducing the influence of Chinese companies in official projects undertaken by the Indian government. The move is believed to impact India’s rollout of 5G services, since a sizeable portion of India’s telecom infrastructure is sourced from Chinese companies such as Huawei and ZTE.