‘No one thought telecom equipment testing lab will take time after proof of concept’

Interview N Balakrishnan,associate director,IISc

Written by Johnson TA | Bangalore | Published: October 21, 2013 4:15:37 am

With the import of telecom equipment increasing — it rose to Rs 53,971 crore during 2012-13 from Rs 52,441 crore the previous year — the home ministry asked Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in 2011 to come up with a framework to set up a central testing and certification lab. The framework was provided and IISc trained DoT engineers but the government is still to establish testing and certification facilities,creating the fear that malware encrypted in foreign equipment might sabotage the Indian communication network.

IISc associate director N Balakrishnan spoke to Johnson T A on the importance of and progress in creating telecom equipment testing facilities in the country.

What has the IISc role been in creating a national-level telecom equipment-testing lab?

The IISc role was to create a proof of concept lab,which we have done. We brought equipment from the market and showed it can be done. We cannot do routine testing because there will be 200 different types of equipment. We cannot run a facility like that. The other thing is,there are certain inputs from vendors,such as detailed design diagram,that they will give only to a mandated testing lab.

Why the delay in creation of a formal lab despite IISc providing proof of concept nearly two years ago?

A cabinet note was issued in 2011 for creation of testing and certification labs. Money was also identified. With manpower and all,the process of setting up takes time in the government. This is something no one anticipated. I know they are serious,otherwise they would not have appointed a DDG for this purpose.

Even if it is not mandated to have testing done by a government lab,it is important that as a country we have this capability for which we have made enormous efforts. DoT has been fully into it as well. It has been done as a joint venture between DoT and IISc. But I think right now,this topic is not being discussed by the ministry concerned.

Why is an Indian laboratory necessary to test foreign telecom equipment? Aren’t there valid international certifications?

You can rely on international agencies but there is a possibility certain things may be missed. At evaluation assurance levels 3 and 4 there is no standard definition of what are vulnerability analysis and penetration testing systems (VAPT). There are limits to which international agencies will test,you have to watch out for a virus attack specifically targeting India. If you have your own lab,you can tailor your VAPT. In other words,you are watching your network and in a way you are waiting to do a little more testing than what would have been done by somebody else.

Is it important that all imported telecom equipment be tested for safety?

No. You can also enter into a mutual recognition agreement. For this,you will have to go to other labs and satisfy yourself that there are no loopholes.

But if China sets up a lab,would you be comfortable saying the testing done by them is acceptable to you. These are some of the issues of not having your own lab. Once you have your own capability I think you are on a much better wicket.

With telecom equipment among the largest imports in most developing and

developed countries,is there an increasing effort to create safety testing facilities?

We have been in this business for 3-3.5 years. Several countries will take several more years to come to the level we have reached. Somewhere a beginning has to be made. If a lab is set up,you will be in a better position. Countries respect only those that have these capabilities. It would be far easier for us to do a lot of things if we set up a lab. Over a period you can have the capability. DoT is trying to see how fast they can get it set up. It will be a great facility for the country to have. We can become part of the global testing countries. We are in a situation where we must get into this game.

Is there a large global commercial opportunity for telecom safety testing labs?

There is a large business opportunity. Wipro and others are exploring the possibility of setting up telecom equipment testing businesses. This testing is not for India alone. India is one of the countries that are consumers of equipment. There are many countries that would like a neutral uninvolved third party to do testing.

There are two to three existing models for telecom equipment testing in the world. One is government sets up the lab,the other is government encourages a setup and oversees it. This is more like validating or empanelling certain labs. The government can make sure you have enough tools to do this. It is not necessary the government alone set up a lab. Around the world all combinations exist.

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