India’s Airtel, Vodafone Idea preparing networks for 5G technology

BIF preparing 5G India
Image by JegasRa |

Indian telecom operators Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea have started preparing their respective networks for 5G technology with a slew of measures including virtualization of their core networks, backhaul up-gradation and deployment of 5G-ready massive mimo and RAN.

The network transformation will enable both telcos to better compete with Reliance Jio, which built a greenfield all-IP network and is more advanced in terms of network technologies.

Vodafone Idea, in its annual report, revealed that all new basebands that are being deployed by the telco are 5G capable, and 90% of TDD radios in its network are 5G ready.

“We have deployed over 12,000 massive mimo across India. It’s the largest such deployment in India of a 5G-ready technology. Our approach has always been to prepare a network with as much of 5G architecture as possible in our 4G,” Vishant Vora, CTO of Vodafone Idea said in a recent industry event.

Vora said that the telco wants to provide many of the features and benefits of 5G with its 4G+ network with the help of cloud and virtualisation. “Cloudification is necessary to unleash the full power of 5G. Beyond virtualization, containerization is what we are doing now … we call it CNF [containerized network functions], and it is helping us to make the entire cloud so much more flexible and agile,” he explained.

India has already deferred 5G spectrum auction to sometime in 2021 due to the financial health of telecom operators like Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel, and an underdeveloped local ecosystem around the 5G technology. However, it is likely to accept telcos’ demand to lower the base price of the 5G spectrum, which could pave the way for better competition during the 5G auction next year.

India has earmarked spectrum in the 3,300-3,600 MHz band or the mid-band for the next-generation 5G service.

Bharti Airtel, on the other hand, is also focused on modernising its wireless and backhaul networks with 5G-ready technologies.

“A robust transport network is needed. 5G will need backhaul, which will be much larger than the backhaul of a 4G site needs because of the sheer spectrum 5G brings in. Backhaul readiness is what Airtel is doing,” Randeeep Sekhon, CTO of Bharti Airtel said.

The Sunil Mittal-led telco is also investing in core and transport networks. “We are investing in tools, which are very easily portable to 5G. Similarly, the investments we make on the infrastructure side are 5G ready,” Sekhon said at the same industry event.

India’s leading telecom operator Reliance Jio, however, said that it is in a much better position to launch 5G in the country having built an all-IP network to offer 4G services.

“We are an all-IP network and that is giving us a head start towards our readiness of 5G…with all the advantages we have got, the only thing which we are now aligning ourselves to understand what kind of footprint we need to create and what kind of then fine-tuning towards this existing infrastructure,” Shyam Mardikar, group chief technology officer of mobility at Reliance Jio said.

Mardikar said that fiberisation of Jio’s telecom sites will also play to its advantage when it launches 5G services. “We had invested heavily in getting our sites fiberised. We are also looking at power readiness because the new radios will consume more power, and we need to upgrade the sites to handle new radios.

Jio has also developed its own 5G technology and is awaiting trial spectrum to pilot it in the country. It plans to take its 5G technology to global telcos.

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