India to start testing foreign telecom equipment from April onwards

No security violations or snooping by telecom equipment from Chinese vendors like Huawei and ZTE has ever been noticed, but India will start conducting its own tests from April, the government of India told the Parliament.

In response to a question on whether Indian security agencies have “expressed concern” over the market dominance of a telecom operator with links to “the army of a big neighbouring country,” the government said they had, in the past, raised concerns with the deployment of telecom equipment.

However, “so far, no specific issue has arisen due to equipment of any specific country,” Kapil Sibal, minister for IT and Telecom, told Rajya Sabha MP Sukhendu Sekhar Roy. “As and when any specific issue arises or a report is received, the regime can be further tightened for the equipment coming from a specific country or source or group of countries.”

Intelligence agencies had indeed claimed that it is possible to hold the country’s entire telecom infrastructure to ransom by foreign agencies, allegedly using special software embedded in telecom equipment in collusion with foreign companies. Chinese equipment vendors ZTE and Huawei were flagged, partly as they have captured most of India’s telecom equipment market with their low prices and advanced technology.

The government later brought in rules making it mandatory for operators to use only those equipment that conform to any international security standards.

“From 1st April 2013 the certification shall be got done only from authorized and certified agencies/labs in India. The copies of test results and test certificates shall be kept by the licensee for a period of 10 years from the date of procurement of equipment, which can be audited/demanded any time during this span, by the licensor,” Sibal said.