National Security Directive | 18 Dec 2020

Why in News

Recently, the Cabinet Committee on Security has approved the setting up of a new National Security Directive on the telecommunication sector.

  • Also, the Union Cabinet has approved the auction of 2,251.25 megahertz of spectrum with a reserve price of Rs. 3.92 lakh crore.

Key Points

  • Background:
    • The Centre asked all telecom operators to undertake an ‘information security audit’ of their networks.
    • The objective was to specifically check for any ‘backdoor’ or ‘trapdoor’ vulnerabilities in the telecom networks, which can be exploited to extract information and pass on illegally to agencies around the world.
      • A backdoor or a trap door is a bug installed in the telecom hardware that allows companies to listen in or collect data being shared on the network.
    • Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE have been under global scrutiny for allegedly installing backdoor vulnerabilities and spying for the Chinese government and have been banned by several countries.
      • Almost 30% of Bharti Airtel’s network comprises Chinese telecom equipment and it is 40% for Vodafone Idea’s network. State-run telcos Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) too have equipment from Chinese vendors, including Huawei and ZTE, in their 3G and older networks.
    • All vendors including Huawei and ZTE were allowed to participate in 5G trials but their participation became difficult owing to developments like the Galwan Valley Standoff in Ladakh.
      • The government barred BSNL and MTNL from using Chinese equipment for the roll-out of its 4G network.
      • The Department of Telecommunications hinted that it would announce guidelines asking even private telcos to refrain from using Chinese equipment, however, no such guidelines have been issued till now.
  • National Security Directive:
    • It aims to classify telecom products and their sources under the ‘trusted’ and ‘non-trusted’ categories.
    • It will make its decision based on approval of the National Security Committee on Telecom.
      • It will be headed by the deputy National Security Advisor (NSA) and have members from other departments and ministries, and independent experts as well as two members from the industry.
    • The National Cyber Security Coordinator is the designated authority and will devise the methodology to designate trusted products.
    • From among the sources declared as trusted sources by the designated authority, those which meet the criteria of the Department of Telecom’s preferential market access policy will be certified as India trusted sources.
      • The policy provides opportunities to local manufacturers of equipment and handsets in the “sensitive” telecom sector to counter dumping of products by other countries.
    • Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) are required to connect new devices which are designated trusted products.
    • However, the directive will not ask TSPs to mandatorily replace the old and existing equipment and does not impact the ongoing annual maintenance contracts or upgrades to old equipment either.
  • Significance:
    • Apart from the directive, the government will release at regular intervals new guidelines for effective monitoring and effective control of the network security of the TSPs.
    • The move could potentially make it more difficult for Chinese telecom equipment vendors to supply equipment to Indian telecom players.
    • Mobile applications that either have Chinese origins or have central servers in China may also find re-entry in the market extremely difficult.
      • Since June 2020, the Centre has banned over 200 Chinese apps, citing national security concerns.

Telecom Spectrum Auction

  • Spectrum in the frequency bands of 700MHz, 800MHz, 900MHz, 1,800MHz, 2,100MHz, 2,300MHz and 2,500MHz would be offered for 20 years.
  • The auction would help boost spectrum availability with telecom operators enabling improvements in 4G services.
  • By winning the right to use spectrum through the auction, incumbent telecom service providers will be able to augment their network capacity, whereas new players will be able to start services.
    • Spectrum holding per operator in a service area in India is well below the international average so any further auctioning of spectrum is needed.
  • Spectrum Auction:
    • It is a transparent process of spectrum assignment to successful bidders.
      • Sufficient spectrum availability increases the quality of telecom services for the consumers.
    • It is relevant that the telecom sector today is a key infrastructure provider with strong linkages with economic growth, direct and indirect employment generation and expansion of Digital India.

Source: IE