Airtel gets nod to conduct OpenRAN-based 5G trials in India

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Image by AlexLMX | Bigstockphoto

Bharti Airtel, India’s second largest telecom operator, has received a nod from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to conduct OpenRAN-based 5G field trials in partnership with US-based Mavenir.

The telco has been conducting 5G field trials in partnerships with European telecom majors Nokia and Ericsson in various rural and urban parts of the country.

Airtel will use spectrum in both mid-band and mmWave band to conduct OpenRAN 5G trials in Chandigarh, which is the capital of the northern Indian states of Punjab and Haryana. The telco will deploy a trial core and radio network using 5G standalone (SA) and non-standalone (NSA) architecture in Chandigarh’s urban and rural areas.

With Mavenir partnership, Airtel is looking to test a vendor-neutral ecosystem. The Sunil Mittal-led telecom operator is a board member of the O-RAN Alliance and is looking to deploy OpenRAN-based networks in India.

Notably, Vodafone Idea has also submitted a similar application with Mavenir with the DoT to conduct OpenRAN 5G trials. The telco, which previously conducted OpenRAN  trials for 4G, has yet to receive an approval for 5G trials. It is conducting trials with traditional vendors.

Vodafone Idea has been running trials in various Indian states in partnership with players like Mavenir, which will also work with the struggling telecom operator to conduct 5G field trials in New Delhi.

Airtel is also partnering with companies such as Intel, Qualcomm, Altiostar and Red Hat to explore possibilities in the OpenRAN space, chief executive Gopal Vittal previously informed the media.

The telco also tied up with the Tata Group and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) to implement locally developed OpenRAN 5G networks solutions. From January 2022, Airtel will pilot and deploy the Tata Group’s locally developed solutions as part of its 5G rollout plans.

With potential OpenRAN deployment in the 5G space, Airtel is aiming to reduce the cost of 5G deployment, as well as reduce exposure to traditional vendors like Nokia, Ericsson, Huawei and ZTE.

Airtel’s chief technology officer Randeep Sekhon previously said that OpenRAN vendors will help the telecom operator bring efficiencies on various fronts, including cost benefits. He added that OpenRAN technology will help bring new vendors to the equipment ecosystem.

In May, the DoT allotted 5G trial spectrum for six months in the 700 MHz, 3.5 GHz and 26 GHz bands, paving the way for telcos to partner and develop India-relevant use cases.

Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio has been conducting 5G trials using its indigenously developed 5G NR radio and 5G core network based on OpenRAN technology. It is conducting trials using spectrum in the mid and mmWave bands.

Last month, Jio, Airtel and Vodafone Idea received a six-month extension from the DoT to conduct 5G trials until May 2022. The next round of 5G spectrum auctions is expected in the second half of next year.

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