US-China Tension Impacts Nepal’s 5G Rollout

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The ongoing tensions between the US and China have dramatically influenced Nepal’s telecoms market, endangering the deployment of 5G mobile networks. Specifically, the country’s telecom giant, Nepal Telecom, has halted 5G trials in various provinces because of a conflict over its permit to import equipment from China. This equipment, supplied by Huawei and ZTE, is crucial for the 5G development.

Spokesperson Shobhan Adhikari highlighted that Nepal Telecom had requested a license to import the equipment from the Nepal Telecommunications Authority since last November. However, there has been no response yet. On the other hand, the regulatory body’s Deputy director, Achyuta Nand Mishra, confidently asserted they had sent a confirmation letter to Nepal Telecom. This inconsistency has undeniably added to the general state of confusion.

Globally recognized foreign policy expert Vijay Kant Karna pointed out that the 5G technology has become a geopolitical contention, particularly concerning data systems and security. Major countries like the United States, India, and China are embroiled in a cutthroat competition over this technology. This competitive disparity is clearly reflected in Nepal’s case, where 5G trials remain in a deadlock. Officials at the US and Indian embassies have also expressed worry about the Nepalese government allowing Chinese companies in the 5G trials without conforming to the usual competitive bidding process.

The report illustrated that Chinese firms have been an active part of the Nepalese telecom market in the past years, legendarily securing contracts due to their competitive pricing strategy. This dynamic, however, has been agitated by recent allegations of corruption and bribery, in addition to the sweeping US restrictions on Chinese-made equipment.

On the local front, the telecom company received authorization for 5G testing and requisite spectrum from the regulator as early as November 2021. Planned trials, though, have stumbled more often than not, with officials providing no cogent reasons. Trials had been underway in places like Pokhara in Gandaki and Birgunj in Madhesh, but they have now inevitably stalled due to the China quandary.

Stakeholders in the Nepalese telecommunications industry now earnestly express their fears of the country lagging behind. An anonymous former official of Nepal Telecom stated, “The government does not have a clear policy on 5G, and that may delay the rollout plans for years, may be a decade”. This recent fiasco in Nepal undeniably highlights the tangible ramifications of the global turmoil in telecoms infrastructures, essentially leading to a delayed tech evolution for nations stuck in the crossfire.

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