Jio, Airtel, Vodafone Idea warn of 5G phone shortage

KOLKATA — Telcos have warned that consumers may see a sharp slowdown in the availability of latest 5G mobile phones with the government calling for mandatory local testing and certification of such devices from January 1, 2023, before they are sold in the country.

Telecom operators have also cautioned that any move to test and certify all 5G smartphones at accredited local labs would also hinder India’s ambitions of becoming a global handset manufacturing base.

Documents reviewed by ET show that DoT’s technical wing, the Telecom Engineering Centre (TEC) at a recent internal meeting decided to bring 5G mobile phones under phase-5 of the Mandatory Testing & Certification of Telecom Equipment (MTCTE) regime that is set to kick in from next January.

The TEC’s latest decision comes on the heels of its earlier directive calling for mandatory local testing and certification of smartwatches, wearables, and smart cameras before these are sold in India.

Telcos and global original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have urged DoT to stop the TEC from implementing the planned local screening of 5G smartphones and other smart consumer electronics products.

“We urge your intervention to instruct TEC to rescind the existing notifications covering all existing consumer electronic products under the MTCTE Certification regime and to desist in pursuing smartwatches, wearables, and smart cameras under Phase III and 5G mobile phones under the proposed Phase V of MTCTE,” the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) said in a letter to telecom secretary K. Rajaraman. ET has seen a copy of the letter, dated March 11.

The COAI represents top telcos, Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea (Vi); global tech companies such as Apple, Google and OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) such as Nokia, Ericsson and Huawei amongst others.

At press time, Airtel, Jio, Vi did not respond to ET’s queries.

Telecom companies and OEMS, in fact, have urged DoT and TEC not to interfere in mobile manufacturing and ensure the mobile industry remains within the ambit of the existing light-touch regulatory framework of the Ministry of IT & Electronics (MeitY) and Bureau of Industrial Standards (BIS). Under these rules, consumer electronics products currently require to be registered and conform to India’s safety standards.

Industry executives said the MTCTE procedure is time-consuming and would put an extra burden of compliance costs of products for OEMs, and in turn, restrict market access and delay the launch of new devices, depriving consumers the use and enjoyment of the latest 5G products.

A senior telco executive said, “TEC’s latest decision is causing unease and uncertainty in the industry as any potential disruption in the availability of 5G smartphones would automatically slow down the pace of adoption of 5G services in India, and also reduce overall data consumption levels, which would ultimately hit telco ARPUs”.

Telecom secretary Rajaraman, though, recently said that testing and certification of telecom products must be an integral part of the manufacturing ecosystem to ensure India becomes a global manufacturing hub.

The COAI, on its part, has argued that de-linking the consumer electronics industry from the TEC-MTCTE certification regime would smoothen the industry’s path for investment through the production-linked incentive (PLI) scheme, especially as India is poised to become a global leader in mobile handset manufacturing.

— (ETTelecom)