India’s second largest telco, Bharti Airtel, said that it is supporting a number of “disruptive and innovative partners” to develop Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN) solutions, which the operator intends to deploy to address the scale and complexity of its network.
The Sunil Mittal-led telco is currently running Open RAN-based 5G field trials in partnership with US-based major Mavenir. It has also been conducting 5G trials with Nokia and Ericsson.
Airtel on Thursday hosted the O-RAN Alliance Global PlugFest 2021 in India in partnership with global and Indian technology companies at its Network Experience Centre in Manesar (Gurugram).
AMI, ASOCS, Capgemini Engineering, Cisco, Intel, IP Infusion, Keysight Technologies, Mavenir, Sercomm, STL, TCS, VIAVI Solutions, VMware and VVDN also joined in the event, the second of its kind.
“The learnings from this Plugfest will further accelerate the journey to ‘Make in India’ O-RAN-based 5G solutions that can be deployed widely across India and the rest of the world,” Airtel CTO Randeep Sekhon said in a statement.
At a recent industry event, Sekhon said that Airtel already sees the benefits of O-RAN technology in terms of total cost of ownership (TCO). “[With Open RAN], you have the handle as operator to drive the cost down rather than totally depending on one vendor.”
Sekhon said that Airtel is working with R&D companies to bring network deployment costs down. “You can work with chipset companies to bring the cost down – you can bring those chip technologies much faster into your network and get that benefit rather than waiting for the larger vendor to integrate it into their designs,” he added.
Airtel is betting big on Open RAN for its upcoming 5G networks. Apart from cutting costs, it is also aiming to look beyond traditional vendors like Ericsson and Nokia to supply its network.
Airtel has already entered into strategic partnerships with chipmakers like Intel and Qualcomm along with Tata Group for building a ‘Make in India’ 5G solution based on O-RAN. Tata Group and sister company Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) has developed an end-to-end 5G stack, which Airtel will pilot in January 2022 and deploy once 5G spectrum is available for commercial services.
Sekhon said that the sops announced by the Indian government under the production-linked incentives (PLI) scheme will help develop a complete ecosystem for O-RAN technology powered equipment.
“We encourage all our suppliers to build in India, and once we get into the Open RAN ecosystem then we will ensure that it will be built in India by Indian companies. So definitely this [PLI] move will help the Indian enterprise ecosystem to participate in this global supply chain,” Sekhon added.
Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio, which is the market leader by subscribers, has also been conducting 5G trials using its indigenously developed 5G NR radio and 5G core network based on Open RAN technology. It is conducting trials using spectrum in the mid and millimeter bands provided by the Indian government.
Vodafone Idea, India’s third ranked telecom operator reportedly initiated discussions with a slew of local and international telecom vendors and system integrators to explore options for its 5G network with an aim to overcome the possible duopoly of European vendors Nokia and Ericsson. It is in talks with Open RAN vendors, according to a recent report by the Economic Times.