Indian telecom operators eye OpenRAN deployments

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India’s private telecom operators are sensing an opportunity to look beyond traditional equipment vendors by leveraging OpenRAN or Open Radio Access Networks technology and a new set of vendors that not just aim to bring customization to their networks but can also enable significant cost advantages. 

While Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio have confirmed their plans to trial OpenRAN technology with multiple vendors, Vodafone Idea has already done a small-scale commercial deployment in the country.

The development comes at a time when India is mulling over blocking Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE from Indian networks, especially 5G networks.

Vishant Vora, chief technology officer at Vodafone Idea confirmed to Indian media that the telecom operator has been working on OpenRAN for 3 years and is now planning to accelerate the deployment.

Vodafone Idea is working with a few vendors including Mavenir to develop “next-gen radio solutions including OpenRAN.”

Vodafone Idea’s OpenRAN push aligns with Vodafone Group’s plan for an OpenRAN tender covering its entire European footprint network.

Vodafone Group is looking at bringing modern yet lower-cost kit in every site through OpenRAN vendors. On the other hand, the main objective behind Vodafone Idea’s OpenRAN move is to cut costs as it struggles to stay afloat amid uncertainty over its future due to the AGR-related legal case in the country.

Bharti Airtel is also a big believer in OpenRAN technology and is currently in talks with various vendors to trial the technology. While confirming OpenRAN-related plans, Airtel’s Chief technology officer Randeep Sekhon told the Economic Times 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.

Interestingly, Airtel has already developed its own small cell in partnership with Taiwan-based Sercomm. 

Reliance Jio, India’s leading telecom operator, has also confirmed its OpenRAN trials in India with various vendors, and is claiming that its all-IP 4G network is best suited to provide scale to the OpenRAN technology at the global level.

Reliance Jio President Mathew Oommen, during a recent webinar organized by the US-India Business Council, urged traditional equipment makers Ericsson and Nokia to adopt open interfaces to their telecom equipment. 

“We are already trailing the OpenRAN technology…it is important for us to accelerate the ecosystem and incentivize traditional vendors to get into open interface model to drive transformation…if we don’t do that there will be friction,” Oommen was quoted as saying.

Earlier this week, both Nokia and Korea’s Samsung have announced their plans to launch a full suite of open-RAN-defined interfaces, giving a much-needed push to the OpenRAN ecosystem globally.

Vodafone Idea’s Vora believes that new OpenRAN entrants can be a significant force in the 4G+ & 5G space in the coming time, and can drive innovation by helping in expanding the telecom gear suppliers’ ecosystem.

“This [OpenRAN] ecosystem is rapidly evolving and technology is enabling the evolution of new entrants into the market. We are engaged with all suppliers in defining the roadmaps and product specifications across all form factors – including macro, small cells, and massive MIMO – which are relevant for the Indian market,” Vora was quoted as saying.

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