Jio, Airtel bet on 5G trials to test indigenous network technology

5G trials indigenous technology
Image by Anton_Medvedev | Bigstockphoto

India’s top two telecom operators aim to test indigenously developed telecom equipment for their ongoing 5G trials, following the Indian government’s recent call to develop and manufacture 4G and 5G gear in the country.

Reliance Jio has already started aggressive 5G trials using its own 5G stack, including radio and core products, while Bharti Airtel is preparing for Tata Sons/TCS’s 5G stack pilot testing. The Sunil Mittal-led telecom operator is also looking to pilot Tata’s 4G stack, which the latter is expected to deploy for state-run telecom BSNL.

To bolster its 4G and 5G stack, Tata Sons’ unit Panatone Finvest recently entered into an agreement to buy a 43.35% stake in home-bred gear maker Tejas Networks.

Airtel on Thursday gave a fresh network order to Tejas to enhance its optical network capacity in key metropolitan markets. The deployment will extend Airtel’s optical networks towards the edge, supporting 5G backhaul, B2B services and broadband applications.

The new network deal between Airtel and Tejas could be seen as the precursor to a full-fledged network deal for 5G next year, where Tata Sons will play a crucial role.

Bharti Airtel’s chairman Sunil Mittal recently said that there was a space for new vendors to enter the Indian telecom market, especially with uncertainty over the participation of Chinese vendors such as Huawei and ZTE.

Mittal revealed that Airtel and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) have formed forums and are working together for the commercial deployment of locally designed and developed telecom gear next year.

On the other hand, Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio is conducting various 5G use cases using its indigenously developed 5G NR radio and 5G core network (5GCN). Aayush Bhatnagar, Senior Vice President at Jio Platforms, revealed that the company has successfully conducted trials of an immersive high-definition virtual reality (VR) multi-party video calling and end-to-end network slicing on its indigenous 5G standalone core.

Jio is conducting trials using spectrum in the mid and millimetre bands provided by the Indian government. The telco intends to conduct trials in 9 Indian cities, with Navi Mumbai the largest testing hub.

Both telecom operators are looking to leverage the Indian government’s policies and incentives to design and manufacture 4G and 5G equipment locally. Both telecom operators have submitted applications for the production-linked scheme (PLI) for telecom equipment and networking products through a joint venture or strategic partnership.

India will soon approve domestic and multinational telecom vendors and contact manufacturers under the scheme. Nokia, Cisco, Foxconn, HFCL and Tejas are among 33 companies likely to get the approval in the coming days.

Indian telecom and IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw last week said that the Indian government is mandating the development of local 4G and 5G telecom equipment as part of the structural reforms for the betterment of the sector.

“…the prime minister has given a mandate that 4G and 5G core and RAN need to be designed and manufactured in India.” He informed that state-run telco BSNL and networks of other telecom operators would deploy locally-designed and manufactured telecom technology.

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