The founder and chairman of one of India’s biggest telecom companies voiced his support for Huawei on Thursday, saying it should be allowed to help build the country’s 5G networks.
“My view is they should be in play, I really feel they should be in play,” Sunil Bharti Mittal said Thursday at the World Economic Forum’s India summit. Mittal’s company, Bharti Airtel, is the third largest mobile network provider in India.
Huawei has been a leader in developing next-generation 5G technology for years, but its recent troubles have allowed competitors such as Nokia (NOK) and Ericsson (ERIC) to narrow the gap. Mittal says the Chinese firm’s equipment is still much more advanced.
“Huawei over the last 10 or 12 years has become extremely good with their product, to a point where I can safely say today their product … is significantly superior to Ericsson and Nokia,” he said, adding that Airtel has been using equipment from all three companies in its 3G and 4G networks.
Mittal’s endorsement came right after US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross reiterated the Trump administration’s view that Huawei poses a security risk — claims the company has repeatedly denied — and urged India to take the threat seriously.
“While we agree that 5G is important, we do think there’s a genuine security risk,” Ross said. “At the end of the day, obviously, India has to make its own decision, but our concerns are security not protectionism,” he added.
Mittal argued that India should let Huawei in to avoid being too dependent on Western companies, adding that the Chinese firm has shown a willingness to collaborate with US companies on technology and could do so with Indian companies as well.
India “must take full advantage” of its relationship with China, Mittal said, arguing that only depending on Western firms would give the Indian government “very little leverage.”
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Huawei did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Mittal’s remarks Thursday but said earlier this year that it had not faced any barriers to operating in India.
“With all my engagements with the Indian government, nobody has told me that you have a problem,” Huawei India CEO Jay Chen told reporters in New Delhi in February. “Nobody told me that we have an issue with you.”
India is still planning its 5G networks, which it aims to roll out by next year, and has not yet ruled out Huawei’s involvement.
Technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told fellow lawmakers in June that Huawei was among six companies that had submitted proposals to participate in the country’s 5G trials. He added that a special committee has been appointed to examine potential security concerns.