Huawei is willing to partner with an Indian company in 5G equipment manufacturing, including the transfer of technology, to relieve any security concerns that India may have, its CEO of India David Li said. He called on the government to provide a “level playing field.”
“We are now very much open and willing to partner with a local company. We are looking for a local partner and for commercial reasons, we don’t want to disclose any details,” Li told Economic Times in his first media interview since taking over in May. “We can bring our software or hardware modules and enable a (local) partner to manufacture equipment.”
Li called on the Indian government to clear the air of uncertainty looming large over Huawei’s participation in the 5G trials and deployment. He asked the Indian government to consider its “clean” record of the last 20 years before arriving at a decision.
“It is uncertain now… The government wants to address security concerns, but that should be based on facts and global standards,” Li said. “We hope the Indian government will give us a level playing field to participate in the (5G) trials.”
Allegations of involvement in snooping on behalf of the Chinese government looms over the Chinese company. The Indian government has been informally nudging state-run telcos and even private ones to stop sourcing equipment from China, amid border tensions with its neighbor, citing national security. Huawei has denied any wrongdoing while there has been no official communication barring Chinese vendors so far by the Indian government.
The government, however, is preparing a list of “trusted sources” under the National Security Directive for the supply of telecom network equipment that experts believe is aimed towards keeping Huawei and Chinese rival ZTE out of India’s 5G deployment. The US and the UK have taken similar steps to bar the Chinese from critical infrastructure.
When asked if the company has been consulted as part of the process to identify trusted vendors, Li said, “Our stance is communicated via our customers, industry and directly. I think giving operators the choice of the best technologies and competitive advantages will benefit everybody.”
Huawei has opened up test labs in the UK and Brussels and is open to doing so in India but only if others are asked to do so as well.
“If the government says everyone can contribute towards setting up a lab, we’re ready to contribute,” he said. “Otherwise, if they ask us alone, it’s very, very costly. Also, there shouldn’t be any kind of discrimination.”
The Chinese company said that it has so far invested $170 million toward its research and development center in Bengaluru out of the total $2 billion in India. Due to low demand from Indian telcos, the company’s manufacturing facility in Chennai stopped production a few years ago.
“We will continue to invest for sure. Internally, we are looking at focussing heavily on R&D. The R&D and the services hold a much higher priority than the manufacturing segment. For the manufacturing bit, we will make the (investment) decisions as long as there is volume,” the top executive said.
Li added that Huawei has been getting deals from Airtel and Vodafone Idea (Vi) and the company is hopeful of winning new business from both telecom operators this year.
An ET report last week stated that Airtel gave a wireline expansion contract to Huawei worth Rs 300 crore for its National Long-Distance (NLD) network.
Huawei’s rivals for the Indian market include Ericsson and Nokia from Europe, South Korea’s Samsung, and Chinese rival ZTE. It currently supplies gear to Bharti Airtel and Vi for some of their circles. But it has lost some business from Airtel due to the uncertainty surrounding it.