Tata, as a manufacturer of advanced telecommunications equipment, will strengthen India’s strategic autonomy

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The Tata Group is poised to become a major player in the fast-growing telecommunications equipment market, with a consortium of Tata companies winning a 26,821 crore order from state-owned telecom operators BSNL and MTNL to set up 100,000 4G sites. This is likely to prove transformative not only for rural India’s broadband access, but also for the world’s telecommunications landscape itself.

The Tatas completed the acquisition of Tejas Networks, a company in the field of telecommunications equipment, which had itself acquired Saankhya Labs Pvt Ltd, which is an R&D focused company in chip design and many others . Tata Elxsi is another high-tech company in the Tata stable that would be useful for the Tata Group to leverage its vast software expertise, embodied by TCS, India’s largest IT services company, to develop the next generation telecommunications hardware, which is software intensive.

The 4G kit that the Tatas would design, manufacture and deploy, with a little help from state-owned C-DoT, should be upgradeable to provide 5G services, with the installation of additional software. Of course, depending on the bandwidth used, 5G could call on many more sites to provide global coverage than 4G.

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The significance of this development is that the world would now have another major supplier of advanced telecommunications equipment, in addition to Ericsson, Nokia Siemens, Samsung and Huawei. It’s not just about increasing business choice, but about adding a vendor that can be trusted not to use the network it provides to spy on users of the network its products are deployed on.

Telecommunications integrity is closely linked to national security. The United States led the boycott campaign against Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, citing national security risks. Huawei is not only at the forefront of telecommunications technology, but also the most competitive telecommunications equipment supplier in the world, with a ready market in the developing world and some developed country markets as well.

The choice of several developing countries has been to risk data integrity or to opt for more expensive kits from European suppliers and therefore to have a high cost for telecommunications services. As Samsung has entered the telecommunications hardware market, Tata Group’s offerings in high-speed, low-latency networks are likely to be more affordable for developing markets.

As China becomes a rival in high-tech fields such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing and communications, and advanced microelectronics, and given China’s reluctance to toe the line drawn by the US- United States, known as the rules-based global order, the US administration has imposed restrictions on Chinese access to various high-end American technologies. This has helped draw attention to the need for technological autonomy for countries like India that aspire to strategic autonomy. The emergence of the Tata Group as a developer of advanced telecommunications equipment would also be a boon for India in this regard.

With several serious responses to government initiatives to develop Indian chip design and manufacturing capability, India’s strategic autonomy plans are no longer just an aspiration. The government’s decision to require the BSNL-MTNL consortium to place its equipment order only with Indian suppliers also proved to be a sensible industrial policy, catalyzing the combination of design, software and hardware capabilities within the Tata group to produce a telecom equipment supplier.

The creation of a new consortium to manufacture telecommunications equipment will trigger new national innovations in the field of telecommunications, a greater supply of software developers in the field of networks and, probably, start-ups which will try their hand at innovative hardware elements.

With the foray into telecommunications equipment, Tata, in other words, is saying “hello”, rather than “Tata”, to a new technological future for India, which seemed within reach at the start of C- DoT and its worldwide success. in developing robust automated exchanges for rural areas, but faded away soon enough, with a changing of the guard at the national government level.

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