Sunil Mittal: Airtel working with local, global companies to create a 5G hub

Mittal Sunil Bharti Airtel
Image by ilixe48 | Bigstockphoto

Bharti Airtel chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal said that the telecom operator is collaborating with home-bred and multinational companies to make India a hub for 5G technology development, adding that it is at the forefront of OpenRAN-related initiatives in the country with partners like Intel, Qualcomm, Mavenir, Altiostar and Red Hat.

“With our large investments in networks and spectrum, we are well positioned to lead in the introduction of emerging technologies such as 5G. We became the first telecom operator in India to demonstrate 5G over a live network and are at the forefront of O-RAN Alliance initiatives. We aim to collaborate with domestic and global companies to make India a hub for 5G technology development,” Mittal said in the company’s annual report released on Tuesday.

To further its local 5G plans, Airtel recently joined hands with the Tata Group to deploy locally developed 5G networks solutions for India. It plans to pilot and deploy the Tata Group’s 5G RAN and core solutions starting January 2022 as part of its 5G roll out plans for India. The move will allow Airtel to reduce the cost of 5G deployment as it uses locally developed OpenRAN (O-RAN) technology.

Airtel’s parent Bharti Enterprises recently announced forming a joint venture with local EMS player, Dixon, to avail incentives under the production incentive-linked (PLI) scheme. The JV will initially start production of customer-provided equipment (CPE) through their manufacturing unit in the Punjab state.

Mittal also expressed hope that the Indian government and the regulator will step in to ensure that the sector remains a viable place for continued investments. He added the telecom industry requires “long overdue” support to maintain its current 3+1 (three private players and one state-owned operator) structure.

“As our sector’s role in the economy becomes more pervasive, our challenges loom larger. Unsustainable pricing and low returns in a highly capital-intensive environment, coupled with legacy legal issues, have extracted their toll. The industry requires long overdue support to maintain its current 3+1 industry structure and allow players to earn a respectable return on their investments,” Mittal said.

This comes at a time when Vodafone Idea’s fate is hanging by a thread as the telco tries hard to raise money to fund its daily operations and clear statutory-related dues. Analysts are fearing a collapse of Vodafone Idea in absence of any substantial support from the Indian government.

“​​India continues to be a promising destination for long-term investors. We have the opportunity to transform India into a global leader in the digital economy. We must continue to evolve our policies to realise these opportunities while encouraging investments, entrepreneurship and innovation through collaboration. Airtel is ready to play its part,” Mittal said.

Vodafone Idea has moved the Supreme Court (SC) with a review petition, hoping its adjusted gross revenue (AGR) dues are reduced. The top court last month rejected its earlier appeal to allow the telecom department to correct “errors” in AGR calculations.

In the annual report, Mittal said that Airtel laid a strong foundation for making the telco a “truly digital first” company to serve Digital India.

“Today, we have the ability to develop world-class platforms and digital solutions on the back of our in-house engineering talent and strong partnerships with best-in-the-class players including Amazon, Google, Verizon, Ericsson, Nokia, Qualcomm, Intel, IBM, Cisco and Apollo Hospitals. This is a big transformation as we embed digital into our DNA and sharpen our focus on serving customers who live in a world of connected devices,” Mittal said.

Airtel’s top boss said that the telco is seeing opportunities in the areas of data centers, cloud services and cyber security as the Indian economy digitises further.

“We will look to scale up our investments in these areas in the coming fiscal year. The year witnessed the induction of Carlyle Group as a strategic partner in our journey of the data centre business,” Mittal said.

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