The telecom sector in India is beginning to look a lot like a war zone these days, with executives warning of potential casualties.
Operators circle and battle each other for market share, and spar with the government and the regulator on policy decisions. But right now, there’s a battle brewing between two standards and certification bodies over who gets to test and certify mobile phones in India.
Come 1 April, companies will have to undergo mandatory testing and certification of telecom equipment in Indian labs, following a government order aiming to beef up security and preparedness against cyberattacks and spying.
While the Telecommunication Engineering Centre (TEC), the authorized technical body under the department of telecommunications (DoT), has been told to test 50 kinds of equipment, including mobile devices, the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), which is the national standards body, is also claiming its domain to test phones.
BIS already tests and certifies mobile handsets, batteries and chargers that are sold together as a bundle.
“Phone makers will need TEC certification from 1 April," said Shakeel Ahmad, deputy director general of TEC.
“BIS is testing and certifying mobile phones only for safety in accordance with notification issued by ministry of electronics and information technology (MEITY). Since a mobile phone is a radio communication device, it needs to be tested for electromagnetic interference and electromagnetic compatibility, radio conformance and radiation, in addition to safety. Accordingly, MEITY has been requested by DoT to de-notify mobile phone from BIS certification, so that it is certified by TEC as a whole. A confirmatory response from MEITY is awaited," Ahmad said.
Emails sent to DoT and BIS were unanswered till press time.
The industry believes a shift to the TEC for certification is unnecessary. “The BIS regime has settled after more than three years. Why rock the boat now?" said a senior executive at a handset maker requesting anonymity.
Another cause of concern is that there will be confusion if, from 1 April, TEC tests the mobile device (since it connects to a telecom network) and BIS tests the other parts such as battery and charger.
“You cannot expect a handset maker to go to both the TEC for testing the phone and also to BIS for testing and certifying charger and battery. This will unnecessarily cause delay in the launch of models in India, compared to when they are launched with the rest of the world," an industry executive said requesting anonymity.
India, with more than 400 million smartphone users, is the world’s second-largest mobile phone market by volume after China. Counterpoint Research estimates that more than a billion smartphones will be sold in India over the next five years. This will drive the number of smartphone users to surpass 700 million by 2022.
There is also the worry over costs. “For small handset makers, it will add to the cost burden as they will have to pay the testing fees to both TEC and BIS," the industry executive cited earlier said.
Improving lab testing is also crucial. TEC has eight labs, but has so far certified only 31 private labs across Delhi, Bengaluru, Gurugram and Chennai, among other cities to carry out testing and certification—15 out of them in the last six months itself.
Most of these labs can carry out testing for electromagnetic interference, electromagnetic compatibility and for safety requirements in telecom equipment. The number of labs that can test phones could not be immediately ascertained.