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India, Japan sign pact to work on 5G, telecom, smart cities

A telecom tower

India and Japan signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) last week to work together in the field of Information and Communications Technologies. The pact will focus on aspects like 5G, telecom security, and submarine optical fibre cable systems to the islands of India, among others, according to a press release by the government.

The two countries will also work on smart cities, high altitude platform for broadband in unconnected areas, disaster management, and public safety. Apart from respective governments, entities such as C-DOT and ITI Limited along with industry players from Japan will also participate in the agreement, the government said.

The MoU was signed by IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, and the Japanese Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications Takeda Ryota.

This MoU comes as both India and Japan — part of the Quad grouping, along with Australia and United States — are currently at odds with China. India has been busy with a series of clashes along its border with China in Ladakh. Japan, meanwhile, is facing Chines intrusions in the Senkaku Islands.

Concerns around Huawei’s 5G tech

The pact also comes amid growing scepticism against Chinese technology companies, particularly Huawei’s 5G technology. The US recently has already Huawei and ZTE, two Chinese companies with significant prowess in 5G, as “national security threats”. The US claimed the companies were likely cooperating with Chinese intelligence services, and had close ties to the country’s military as well. Since 2019, the US Department of Commerce has added Huawei and over a hundred of its affiliates to its “Entity List”, effectively prohibiting the company from importing, exporting or using American technology.

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Chinese tech faces similar suspicion in India. Post the Indo-China border clashes, the Indian government has banned as many as 224 Chinese-owned apps, including TikTok, PUBG, Camscanner, Shein, Clash of Kings and WeChat citing “national security” reasons.

Although, both Huawei and ZTE had been allowed to participate in 5G trials in India, the government reconsidered this decision after the border clashes. Officially, the government doesn’t seem to have taken a decision yet. Recently, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) told Parliament that it had no plans to exclude Chinese companies from 5G infrastructure contracts. However, companies are trying to maintain a distance from Chinese companies on their own. Last month, Airtel was reported to be applying for 5G trials without Chinese vendors like Huawei and ZTE. Similarly, Reliance chairperson and managing director Mukesh Ambani had announced in July that Jio’s 5G technology was built “from scratch” by Reliance employees, without any Chinese tech.

The Department of Telecommunications had earlier said that BSNL’s upcoming 4G network should be built by Indian companies. The state-run company had cancelled a 4G tender in the aftermath of the border clashes, and a new one reportedly in the works is expected to make Chinese companies ineligible. Interestingly, more than half of the telecom equipment currently used by BSNL has been acquired from Huawei and ZTE.

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