Airtel CEO opposes India’s own 5G standard, calls it a threat

indigenous 5G standard India
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Bharti Airtel chief executive, Gopal Vittal, has openly opposed India’s bid to bring its own version of 5G standard and said that it could pose an “existential threat” to the telecom ecosystem in the country.

Speaking at an industry event, Vittal said that the adoption of this local version of 5G standard could lock India out of the global ecosystem.

“There is talk of India having its own 5G standards; this is an existential threat which could lock India out of the global ecosystem and slow down the pace of innovation. We would let our citizens down if we allow that to happen,” Vittal said at the India Mobile Congress virtual event on Tuesday

The top executive of India’s second-largest telecom operator compared the current situation around 5G standard to the CDMA versus GSM debate.

“GSM won not because it was a better technology, in fact, CDMA was the better technology. GSM won because it was more accepted technology and more companies in the world embraced it, and the rest is history. GSM won because it became part of the global ecosystem and CDMA died,” Vittal said. “In the technology world, the standard is what makes an ecosystem.”

Telecom Standards Development Society, India (TSDSI), responsible for Telecommunications standards development in the country, has been pushing its own version of 5G radio interface technology, namely 5Gi. TSDSI’s 5G technology recently cleared the rigorous processes of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and has been approved by the SG5 of ITU as a part of Draft Recommendation IMT-2020.SPECS.

TSDSI has said that the ITU will now circulate the standard to member states for adoption and approval. “Specifications are expected to be published by ITU in early February 2021,” the body said in a statement.

The Indian standards body’s 5Gi suggests mobile towers be spaced 12 km apart in villages instead of the standard 6 km suggested by the 3GPP standard using the 3.4Ghz band.

India’s top telco Reliance Jio recently backed TSDSI’s 5G standard and said its acceptance can lead to the first Indian IPR (intellectual property rights) on the global 5G stage.

Notably, Mukesh Ambani-led Jio is working on its own-developed 5G technology, which it intends to deploy in India before taking it to other developing markets in the Middle East, Asia and Europe.

Vodafone Idea and Airtel had previously written to the Indian government and cautioned them about TSDSI’s standard gaps. They had said that the local standard doesn’t inter-operate with the global standard.

In a statement last week, TSDSI said that its standard is a major breakthrough for bridging the rural-urban digital divide in 5G deployment due to enhanced coverage. “It enables connecting majority of India’s villages through towers located at gram panchayats in a cost-effective manner. It has found support from several countries as it addresses their regional needs from a 5G standpoint.”

Earlier this year, the global mobile supplier association (GSA) also wrote to India’s telecom department (DoT)  to express concerns over local 5G standards. GSA had said that TSDSI’s standard would lead to interoperability issues between devices and networks.

At the event, Airtel’s Vittal also urged the government to provide a stable and simple regulatory environment to enable digital India’s fast growth.  “We must have enabling policies that continue to keep access to technology affordable. Affordable to lay down fibre, which is the node of Digital India. Affordable spectrum that allows us to build networks that India deserves,” he said. He also called for an open ecosystem in India so that more applications can be developed locally. “..we have to come together and set aside our differences and be part of one. The private sector, telcos, equipment players, device players, manufacturing companies, IT companies…everyone can benefit as the growth of technology makes us more productive. We should more collectively sign on to create a 5G ecosystem,” he added.

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