Ditched by Reliance Jio, Samsung eyes 5G deal from Airtel

Samsung 5G The Ken
Samsung flies the flag.

South Korean tech giant Samsung has reportedly begun discussions with India’s second-largest telecom operator – Bharti Airtel – to secure a slice of the latter’s 5G-related investments. This comes amid uncertainty over any meaningful business coming in from its only telecom customer, Reliance Jio, which is betting big on its own indigenously developed 5G technology.

According to a report by India’s online publication, The Ken, the ongoing negotiations with the Sunil Mittal-led telco are being handled directly by Samsung’s executives in Seoul instead of the Mumbai-based local team, which directly serves the Mukesh Ambani-led telco.

Airtel has been in discussions with both traditional and new players for its 5G-related network investments in the country.

Airtel said that it would continue relationships with European vendors Ericsson and Nokia. Still, to avoid a possible duopoly by these vendors, the Sunil Mittal-led telco is exploring options in the OpenRAN space with various players, including the Tata Group and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS).

The Ken reported that a deal between Samsung and Airtel hasn’t yet been signed, but it would happen only once a long-term deal is in place, and this could happen closer to India’s 5G auctions.

The auctions, which have already been pushed back multiple times, could happen by June 2022.

Samsung’s exclusive partnership with the Mukesh Ambani-led Jio on 4G ended in 2020, following the latter’s decision to build everything related to 5G on its own.

The Korean company was looking to secure new 4G network business from legacy Indian telcos like Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and BSNL after it ended exclusive tie-up with Jio on 4G. However, the vendor’s talks didn’t yield any results then. It subsequently laid off several hundred employees in 2020 involved in Jio’s pan India network in the absence of any new business from the telco.

In the absence of any new business, Samsung last year decided to skip applying for India’s production-linked incentive (PLI) scheme for telecom equipment. The greenfield facility would have involved around Rs 800-1,000 crore ($108-135 million) investment, which it considered extremely high in India, where it just supplies 4G gear to Reliance Jio.

Notably, Airtel hasn’t pushed any application with the country’s Department of Telecom (DoT) to use Samsung gear in its ongoing 5G field trials. Nokia and Ericsson are already supplying equipment to the telco.

Even as talks continue with Airtel, Samsung is trying hard to secure a part of Jio’s 5G network-related investments. The report added that Samsung executives are still keen on inking an exclusive 5G partnership with Jio.

However, the gear vendor is likely to get some new business for Jio’s existing network for coverage and capacity expansion.

Jio is currently in talks with various domestic and multinational contract manufacturers for the local production of 5G equipment based on its indigenous technology.

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