Indian telcos ready to collaborate on 6G – but no more forks, please

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Indian telecom operators Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea said they are ready to work with the Indian government and academia for 6G development – provided it is done in cooperation with 3GPP – and that an early start will result in local intellectual property (IP) creation for the Indian telecom ecosystem.

At a recent industry event, Airtel chief technology officer Randeep Sekhon said it was “absolutely the right time” to start the 6G journey and leverage India’s brainpower to which contributes to the R&D.

“We should bring telcos, the academia, all the brains we have in our very high-standard academic institutions and the Indian government together for the development of IPR for technologies,” Sekhon said. “We can actually really start building 6G standards, and in these 6G standards, we [will] cooperate with 3GPP.”

Separately, Vodafone Idea chief technology officer Jagbir Singh shared similar views and said that there was a need to identify participating members along with academia who can work with the vendor ecosystem, telecom operators and the Department of Telecommunications (DoT).

“Let’s also have a separate committee which will submit into 3GPP and get it patented,” Singh added. “This committee should be represented in the international 3GPP standards.”

Last week, the DoT last week mandated six academia-driven task forces under the Technology Innovation Group (TIG) on 6G technology to map 6G activities and capabilities worldwide.

The department notice dated December 30 mandated immediate deliverables by March 31, 2022 including a white paper on India’s competencies such as research and pre-standardization activities.

The six new task groups are headed by Bhaskar Ramamurthy, director of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Chennai; Abhay Karandikar, director of IIT-Kanpur; Bharadwaj Amrutur, director of Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bangalore; Kiran Kumar Kuchi, director of IIT-Hyderabad. The groups are focused respectively on multi-platform for next generation networks, spectrum policy, multi-disciplinary innovative solutions, and devices.

The DoT said that it empowered the chairpersons of the newly-created task forces to rope in global experts for mentorship whenever necessary.

The same organizations were also working with the Telecom Standards Development Society, India (TSDSI) develop 5Gi – India’s planned indigenous 5G standard that was rejected by Indian telcos, gear and chipset vendors, handset companies, and trade bodies.

A plan of action was agreed at the 3GPP TSG RAN plenary (RAN#94-e) to allow the merger of 5Gi into 5G, with specific milestones set for both 3GPP and TSDSI.

Both telco CTOs said that India can avoid mistakes made in its journey to create 5Gi.

“We can’t come at the last minute with our own standard and deploy it at the same time. For any specific deployment, there needs to be a cycle of 3-4 years,” Vodafone Idea’s Singh said during the event. “5Gi, however, will give us learnings to contribute more effectively towards the 6G standard.”

Airtel’s Sekhon also said that despite claims to the contrary, the authorities involved with 5Gi standard development couldn’t ensure devices, chipsets or even the testing lab.

“Deploying a fork standard will be very difficult because you would have 50 million devices of the 5G 3GPP standard in India already. But we must get in now for 6G and get in with full commitment and commit budgets to it,” Sekhon said.

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