With India still remaining undecided about the integration of Huawei’s 5G into its communications networks, what are the consequences of 5G for the Indian defence forces? The answer to this question is a complex one. 5G will bring enormous benefits to the Indian armed services over the next decade at least. It is widely regarded to be state-of-the-art technology, which will have a bearing on military operations. Yet the Government of India (GoI) is yet to make a decisive call regarding where to source 5G from. China’s Huawei still remains a potential contender for the supply of some 5G equipment. Huawei’s 5G offer is very competitive in a field consisting of Qualcomm, Eriksson and Nokia. While the Indian government in its latest announcement clearly stated that it will not allow 5G gear from “non-trusted” sources — implying Huawei and another Chinese company ZTE will not make the cut — the GoI remains unsure about whether it wants to unambiguously exclude the two Chinese 5G suppliers.
The government has identified these companies as likely to install “trap door” or “back door” technologies that could enable Chinese spy agencies to conduct espionage. These technologies, if installed by Huawei or ZTE, will in all likelihood jeopardise India’s national security. 5G brings great benefits to the civilian and commercial telecommunications sectors. It will generate higher data rates, rapid transmission enabled by high bandwidth, and beyond the benefits it brings to the civilian sector, there are considerable military benefits as well.
The Government of India remains unsure about whether it wants to unambiguously exclude the two Chinese 5G suppliers — Huawei and ZTE.
Military planners in India, just as they are in other countries, are likely to seize this opportunity to integrate 5G hardware and software for their current and future capabilities. 5G will have faster response rates as opposed to 4G
, wider bandwidth and extremely quick transmission and reception of imagery and battlefield conditions. Nevertheless, 5G spectrum presents challenges to a range of the military’s technical capacities. The armed services, even before the current military stand-off following Chinese military action in Ladakh in early May this year, did caution the Modi-led GoI on including 5G equipment sourced from the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) as it could interfere with military communications and seriously impair the Army’s capacity to defend India along its extensive land frontier with the PRC
For instance, 5G will have an impact on defence electronic systems. These electronics are part of the terrestrial radar networks and man-portable radio sets which impact communications. There are two forms of interference the GoI will need to consider when it chooses to integrate 5G into the country’s telecommunications network covering wireless as well as wired services. The first is natural: the mountain terrain and heavy rainfall is likely to interfere with 5G equipment the Indian Army will use in the coming years; and the second is interference from other users, which could potentially affect the complete performance of 5G systems.
If India is going to source wireless communication from Huawei or ZTE, China will be using the same.
Unlike the commercial users of 5G who might not want to invest in robust protection gear from interference due to high cost, the Indian armed services will be compelled to do so. They will need to invest in rugged transportable equipment that keep interference to a minimum in an operating environment. To ensure the effective and complete performance of 5G for the Indian military, the government has to get technical experts to undertake computer simulations to obviate or limit interference. The armed services are likely to face ubiquitous obstacles, such as high-powered jamming signals of the opponent. 5G has high bandwidth. Consequently, jammers will follow into the millimeter wave range to jam systems at close range. All users, including commercial and military users, will depend on 28 GHz and beyond for short distance transmission. This is unlike 4G which has a longer wavelength and lower frequency signals, generally 3.5 GHz and below. Across wireless networks, bandwidth at lower frequencies, as is the case with 4G, has effectively limited the capacity to transmit at higher speeds to the MB/s range. 5G developers are expecting to increase it to the 1 GB/s range, which will be feasible only at short ranges. If India is going to source wireless communication from Huawei or ZTE, China will be using the same.
In this context, sourcing any piece of 5G equipment from China’s two telecommunications giants is likely to be very risky from the standpoint of the Indian armed services. The GoI has to also factor in how 5G might interfere with space-based signal transmission. Transmission to ground-based receivers from space could suffer. For instance, in the United States, L1 signal transmission from a Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) is specifically created for civilian
and commercial use and designed to at least limit or tolerate interference from adjacent spectrum in space systems, but not from terrestrial systems from the adjacent band. Interference of 5G with GPS signals are an issue not just for civilians, but very importantly the US military. Taking all these factors into account, the GoI needs to think through exactly where it sources 5G equipment as well as preventing 5G’s interference with space-based transmission from terrestrial networks.
Interference of 5G with GPS signals are an issue not just for civilians, but very importantly the US military.
Nevertheless, the Modi government has conveyed “mixed signals
” or appears conflicted about the extent to which it wants to exclude Huawei from the Indian telecommunications market. Despite the higher cost of alternative sources of 5G equipment and the absence of any native Indian capacity to build 5G hardware and software, it would be wiser to choose non-Chinese sources. Being familiar with their own 5G devices, the Chinese will be better positioned to generate signal interference and jam electronic transmissions of the Indian military. Temporising over the decision to include Huawei or ZTE is seemingly reasonable, but when weighed against the foregoing analysis, it is best the government not dither and make a clear call.
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