As per latest reports coming in, BSNL will soon grant an equipment contract to China-based Huawei to widen its nationwide core Internet network. The Economic Times reports that the move may bring in some concerns over security in procuring telecom gear from Chinese vendors. Interestingly, top executives with direct knowledge shared with ET that the state-owned operator's core IP network will be adept at handling data, voice and video traffic. In addition to this, the core IP network is believed to be “the principal communications backbone” that will carry crucial, sensitive data of Indians for several initiatives like national optic fibre network (NOFN), the National Knowledge Network and the government's Aadhar program.
Recently, in a shocking revelation, the head of the US House of Representatives' Intelligence Committee warned US companies against doing business with China's Huawei Technologies Co Ltd. A committee report stated that the company’s equipment “could open doors for spying”.
One of the bidders for BSNL's Core IP Network contract
At the time, Chairman Mike Rogers was quoted as saying, “If I were an American company today … and you are looking at Huawei, I would find another vendor if you care about your intellectual property; if you care about your consumers' privacy and you care about the national security of the United States of America.”
China-based Huawei Technologies is a leading maker of telecommunications gear and a revelation as such would hit its ambitions hard.
However, Huawei is not the only company flagged in the report. ZTE, another leading name in the manufacturing of telecommunications equipment based in Shenzhen, China, has also been mentioned in the report, citing security risks.
Following these concerns, the report has shared that sources in the Communications Ministry admitted to there being some pressure to keep Chinese network vendors away from such projects. Interestingly though, the Indian government is yet to say the final word on the recent US report.
BSNL Chairman and MD RK Upadhyay shared, “BSNL, in all its procurements, follows security guidelines issued by DoT.” He went on to add that the process adhered to the company's procurement manual.
Incidentally, according to this report, BSNL had little choice in picking vendors, since Huawei and ZTE were the sole bidders. The report adds, “The state-run telco, it is learnt, had little option since Huawei and ZTE were the sole bidders for upgrading its IP core network, internally known as `MNGT' or MPLS-based next generation transport system.”
Interestingly, findings at the end of a White House-ordered review into the security risks to telecommunications companies in the US by suppliers revealed that no clear evidence had been found that indicated the company spied for China.
The security review ordered for by the White House had intelligence agencies and other departments conduct a largely classified inquiry, looking into reports of suspicious activity and asking detailed questions to nearly 1,000 telecom equipment buyers.
White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden was quoted as saying, “The White House has not conducted any classified inquiry that resulted in clearing any telecom equipment supplier”. In fact, Hayden shared that Huawei was kept away from being part of an emergency network for first responders a year ago “due to U.S. government national security concerns”.