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DoT launches trusted telecom portal for registration of approved telecom gear

A telecom tower

The Department of Telecommunications has launched trustedtelecom.gov.in, a portal for telcos to implement the National Security Directive on Telecommunication Sector, essentially to prevent the use of Chinese tech in Indian telecom networks. The Union Cabinet had approved the directive in December 2020. This is how the government said the portal would work in a press release:

Trusted Products are products whose critical components and the products themselves are sourced from Trusted Sources. The TSPs will be provided access to log into the Trusted Telecom Portal and indicate the telecom products and the vendor from whom they intend to procure the products. The details of these vendors, the products, their critical components and their sources are then populated into the portal by the TSPs and respective vendors who will also be provided access to the portal. An assessment is made of the vendors and the sources of the components to determine Trusted Sources and Trusted products which are then intimated to the vendor concerned and the applicant TSPs to make their procurements. — DoT

The portal was developed by the Centre for Development of Telematics, and the directive is administered by the National Cyber Security Coordinator. “Recent years have seen a dramatic rise in cyber-attacks, intelligence gathering and influence operations over the internet by threat actors. With the increasing use of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, the range of possible offensive measures by various actors using telecom network will continue to increase manifold,” the directive explains.

While new equipment will need to be cleared by the government, existing tech does not need to be replaced immediately. The DoT amended the telecom license for this purpose in March. Telcos and vendors now have to register products on the portal through an authorised nodal officer. Approval will be provided after the NCSC reviews the application, and after that procurement can be done by the telcos.

Global moves to discourage Chinese telecom tech

The directive is part of a US-led global move away from Huawei, ZTE and other Chinese telecom equipment vendors. The concerns stem from partly geopolitical and partly security-related concerns. The US, Sweden, the UK, and other countries have taken steps to discourage the use of Chinese tech in their telecom networks. India has joined this quasi-movement after the Indo–Chinese border skirmishes last year. Jio in particular has been a little ahead of its competitors by shunning Chinese tech in most of its network-layer equipment (even if devices like its WiFi hotspot devices were manufactured there). This earned the carrier a “clean telco” label from the US.

These restrictions may not have immediate impact — in India at least, existing tech does not need to be replaced immediately, and 5G networks are still in testing stage, so telcos have time to procure approved equipment in the coming days as they acquire spectrum and begin to install equipment.

Update (June 18): Story updated with international context.

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