The GSM Association has announced its arrival in India in a rather strange and controversial manner. The global mobile industry body, which announced the launch of its India office last week has told PTI that India should refrain from developing its own technology standards, and that technology standards need to remain global. This is probably in response to a proposal in the new National Telecom Policy that calls for development of new standards and intellectual property from India. The NTP, still in its draft stage, proposes the following:

– To promote setting up of Telecommunications Standard Development Organisation (TSDO) as an autonomous body with strong participation of the industry, R&D centres, service providers, and academia to drive consensus regarding national requirements. It will facilitate access for the Indian Industry in the International Standards Development Organisations and act as an advisory body for incorporation of Indian requirement/IPRs/standards in the international standards.
– To incentivize telecom service providers to use indigenous products by encouraging: Commitment to purchase Indian products that are comparable in price and performance to imported products; Commitment to participate in trials of newly created Indian products, nurture them and place pilot orders; Funding R&D and support Indian IPR creation and participate in creation of standards; To mandate testing and certification of all telecom products for conformance, performance, interoperability, health, safety, security, EMF/EMI/EMC, etc. to ensure safe-to-connect and seamless functioning in the existing and future networks.

The way things stand right now, India imports much of its telecom equipment, and in accordance with international standards. This has implications in terms of costs, since usually, the intellectual property is owned by foreign manufacturers, it leads to a greater cash outgo; however a counter argument is that since the equipment purchased is according to International standards, economies of scale kick in leading to lower costs. In addition, there are concerns about compatibility, since India has to conform to international norms, and is unable to set them in accordance with its own needs, in terms of availability of spectrum per telecom operator or user. An additional concern that we’ve heard of is that telecom networks can be used by governments for snooping at a global level, so there is no telling whether a network equipment from an international vendor could be used for snooping. This is why the Indian government is looking to encourage domestic manufacturing, and has in the past, been reticent about allowing Indian telecom operators to procure equipment from Chinese vendors like ZTE and Huawei.

Our take: To set standards, India first needs to promote research for setting standards, and then push for international acceptability. Given India’s demands for telecom infrastructure, it is a buyer, and it should be able to pull its own weight in terms of standard-setting.

More on the NTP:
– India’s Draft National Telecom Policy 2011: On Licensing, Regulation, Convergence, Spectrum And Manufacturing
– India’s Draft National Telecom Policy 2011: What’s In It For Startups, Content & Service Providers /
– India’s Draft New Telecom Policy 2011: The Policy That Could Change India’s Digital Business Forever /
– Draft New Telecom Policy 2011: Broadband Related Provisions & Issues Not Addressed