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27 October 2020

Bharti Airtel follows Jio into 5G self-sufficiency

By Wireless Watch Staff

Reliance Jio has made a big play of its plans to develop its 5G architecture inhouse, and now its rival, Bharti Airtel, is taking a similar line. The company says it will work with domestic and international partners to develop technology for 5G, home broadband and IoT networks, and aims to have the equipment manufactured locally, which would conform with the government’s intensifying focus on its ‘Made in India’ initiative.

The operator is reported to be working on commercial agreements with its 5G suppliers and several leading lights in the emerging open networks ecosystem are tipped to have a share in the deal, including Altiostar and NEC (both part of the Rakuten Mobile roll-out, which is providing something of a template for open 5G projects), plus Mavenir, Sercom and chip provider Xilinx. It has already worked with Altiostar and Sercom on small cells, and it is believed to be talking to Flex about manufacturing the equipment in its Indian facilities, and to Tejas Networks about wireline elements.

Like Rakuten itself, and Jio, Airtel seems to have multiple motivations to conduct inhouse development. One is to assert a strong hold over its suppliers, driving down prices while also getting technology that is tailored to its requirements and cost base.

Another is to achieve the innovation and efficiencies of an open RAN at an early stage, before the technology and interfaces are widely available in fully commercialized equipment for the macro network.

And a third is to generate a new revenue streams, and increased influence in the global ecosystem, by selling the solutions it develops to operators in other regions, particularly those with similar cost and ARPU challenges to those of India, such as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and some African countries. The platforms will certainly be of interest to Airtel’s own African operations.

Airtel aims to scale up its labs in Bengaluru and Manesar to work on product development.

Earlier this year, Jio announced that it was developing its own 5G solutions, which it would sell to other operators after deploying in India. It says it has already broken the gigabit performance barrier with 5G NR equipment developed with its software subsidiary Radisys, and with Qualcomm.

“This achievement not only supports Jio’s 5G credentials but also signifies the entry of Jio and India into the Gigabit 5G NR product portfolio,” said the announcement. They used Qualcomm’s 5G RAN Platform, which includes the baseband, RF front end, antenna panels and other elements (see separate item) for sub-6 GHz or millimeter wave bands.

Mathew Oommen, president of Reliance Jio Infocomm, said: “We are excited about working with Qualcomm in developing new generation cloud-native 5G RAN technology that is truly open and software-defined. The development of secure RAN solutions provides the ideal combination for local manufacturing and for accelerating the realization of Atmanirbhar Bharat [the government’s ‘self-sufficient India’ program] for an inclusive 5G nation.”