Facebook says India can take lead in global OpenRAN market – really?

OpenRAN India Facebook
Image by Bakhtiar Zein | bigstockphoto.com

Social networking giant Facebook said that India could take the lead in the OpenRAN space using its own market, which offers enough scale to bring down the overall cost of deployment. Additionally, the SouthEast Asian country can use OpenRAN technology as an opportunity to further support its “Make in India” program, a senior executive said.

“So, I’m very optimistic about this. India because of the scale and the size of the market, it can lead to scale and it can lower the costs and become a global leader,” Robert Pepper, director of public policy at Facebook said at the India Mobile Congress 2020 virtual event.

His comments come at a time when India’s two leading telecom operators — Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel — are working on developing their own 5G equipment and products using the OpenRAN technology.

Reliance Jio’s parent Jio Platforms has already revealed that it has adopted OpenRAN along with Cloud-RAN or C-RAN architecture for its own 5G technology. Airtel, on the other hand, is working with Japan and US-based companies to develop these products and is planning to manufacture locally with companies like Flex and Tejas Networks.

All Indian telecom operators are currently preparing for OpenRAN trials in a limited manner. 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.

“Telcos may need more time and flexibility in terms of the ability to roll out OpenRAN technology since they may find it difficult due to the existence of legacy technologies and legacy vendors that are not yet on board to the open interoperable approach…those things are where the government can help them,” Pepper said.

Pepper urged the Indian government to bring policies to push the adoption of OpenRAN and disaggregated technologies. He suggested that the policies can also incentivise research and development (R&D), application and software development.

Notably, India has already announced a production-linked incentive (PLI) scheme to build a local ecosystem for telecom equipment, especially for 5G technology.

The executive said that India can also offer incentives to local and global companies that are involved in developing the OpenRAN ecosystem including things like testing, back office support and cloud operations. “…these are some comparative advantages. India has some of the world’s best software developers and back office operations,” he added.

Japan’s Rakuten Mobile has a big R&D center in India which supports its OpenRAN deployment in the home country and the Rakuten Communications Platform (RCP). India’s Tech Mahindra is also working in the OpenRAN space.

Facebook’s another director of public policy, Alan Norman, has separately called for flexibility in licensing of spectrum for proliferation of connected devices ecosystem and other use cases such as WiFi-6 and other unlicensed technologies.

“We think there’s going to need to be a balance of both licensed and unlicensed spectrum. That in fact, WiFi and other ultra wideband and other unlicensed technologies are going to have a big contribution to the overall 5G experience,” Norman said during a panel discussion at the event.

“So we need a balanced policy that provides enough spectrum and an abundant amount of spectrum for both of those technologies to move forward.”

Norman also urged India to ensure availability of adequate 5G spectrum for different service providers in the country. “Facebook users rely very heavily on wireless connectivity. In India, over 300 million users are on Facebook…low band, mid band and millimeter wave band are all going to be essential. So we’re strongly advocating for that to make sure that there’s enough spectrum for everybody.”

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