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~ By Kavita Ogale

Supersonic internet speeds, digital prowess that can spur industries including transport, utilities and renewables, benefits to the health and education sector, a revolution in Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), communications, security, finance, as well as agriculture – there is very little that goes against the impending 5G rollout in India.

That it could be driven by China’s telecom giant Huawei, is the only ominous cloud that hangs over India’s 5G dreams.

In a future that is inevitably geared towards the rapid development of smart cities, the deployment of a massive 5G network is in line with PM Narendra Modi’s tech-empowered India. Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea stand poised to tackle the fiscal deficit amid high-priced spectrum and a heated price bracket, even as the proposed three-month trial, set for this month to test a 5G spectrum in India is fast gaining momentum.

An insight into the rollout of 5G services in India by the Department of Telecommunications in 2017 reveals an estimated upturn worth over US$1 trillion by 2035.

With a decision on the inclusion of Huawei pending, Nokia, Ericsson and Samsung are the selected equipment vendors who will lend crucial support in India’s bid to keep up with the global move towards the fifth generation of cellular network and digital advancement.

Huawei in China is set to do for the 5G telecom market what AT&T and Verizon in the US did for the world with the launch of the 4G wave almost a decade ago. 576 million smartphone users will employ 5G services by 2025, comprising around 40% of the world’s such connections.

China will enjoy the first mover advantage in deploying the world’s first 5G widespread network as early as next year pegged on government support and a capital investment of US$180 billion towards the cause. This will mean low latency and a 10-15% cheaper cost of commercial adoption of 5G-enabled handsets, applications and services all over the world.

For India, Keeping China’s largest standalone 5G-enabling network out of the mix is being seen as a bigger risk than the perceived intelligence leak it seems to involve.

With the US softening its disengagement with Huawei after the recent G20 Summit in Japan and countries like the UK still considering the offer, India is under immense pressure to ease its opposition on the second largest smartphone manufacturer in the world, after Samsung.

Huawei’s presence in India is a long-established one of nearly two decades with the country housing the firm’s largest R&D centre overseas, set up in Bengaluru in 1999 that employs more than 5000 engineers. The Chinese brand has gained access from the Department of Telecom (DOT) to execute 5G trials in India last year.

With India being one of the fastest growing telecom markets in the world today, Huawei will try everything to gain a foothold in the country’s 5G ecosystem. New Delhi’s resistance meanwhile, is linked to its previous history of hacking Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL) which led to restricted usage of telecom equipment in areas around the country’s borders in 2009, similar hacking was detected in the state-owned telecom in 2014 as well. Huawei has denied these allegations, assuring full co-operation with the Indian government on all network security compliance issues.

India must independently assess the impact of the Chinese Communist Party’s control over businesses through intelligence agencies and laws before it signs the dotted line. Better cyber security surveillance policies and standards to protect data and networks is imperative and Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad should be looking to close the gaps before he takes an informed decision.

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