Airtel announces partnership with Tata group for 5G network solutions
Leading telecommunications company Bharti Airtel on Monday announced a strategic partnership with software steel conglomerate Tata for 5G network solutions. Based on open radio access network (ORAN) technology, it is planned to deploy the solution first in India and then for export.
This move is seen as much more ambitious than Airtel’s initial plan to work with hardware and software players to build a 5G network at the lowest price. As one senior executive put it, the original plan was not to “become an R&D supplier to the world”.
With the latest announcement, the company headed by Sunil Mittal is now set to take on rival Reliance Jio head on. Mukesh Ambani’s telecommunications company Jio is already working on trials for its locally developed 5G network, based on ORAN. Jio would also sell the technology and solutions to global telecom operators, he said earlier.
Bharti Airtel turned to Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) for its system integration capability. ORAN technology requires expertise in integrating disparate pieces of hardware and software based on open source technology.
Earlier technology, provided by incumbent telecommunications equipment manufacturers like Ericsson and Nokia, was based on proprietary technology with hardware and software merged into a single offering.
Under ORAN, telecommunications operators can purchase their hardware and software from multiple players, increasing competition and reducing overall network costs. But to enable this, telecom operators need a system integrator to power the network.
The Tata Group, just like Reliance Jio, has also built a state-of-the-art ORAN-based radio as well as an autonomous and non-autonomous core, which controls the network. The ORAN network is increasingly dependent on software, which gives it more flexibility and efficiency. Reliance, which also bought Radisys in the United States, used it as the basis for the software solutions required for 5G.
Gopal Vittal, Managing Director and CEO (India and South Asia) of Bharti Airtel, said: “We are delighted to partner with the Tata Group to make India a global hub for 5G and related technologies. It will also give a big boost to Indian innovation and manufacturing destination. “
N Ganapathy Subramaniam, COO of TCS, said: “As a group, we are excited about the opportunity offered by 5G. We are delighted to have Airtel as a customer.
The new alliance has an advantage over Jio in the global market, as Bharti Airtel already has its own networks or has stakes in telecommunications companies in many geographies, including Africa, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. As for TCS, it serves many telecom operators around the world.
For Airtel, the initiative to develop its own 5G technology based on ORAN is not new. Previously, she had had discussions with Tech Mahindra to hire her as a system integrator and software partner. It has also partnered with global partners, including Japanese hardware giant NEC, Taiwanese major Sercomm, cloud player Red Hat and start-ups like US-based Mavenir, with the exception of Rakuten from Japan. It has also partnered with the American company Altiostar to build small cells to be deployed in 4G and later in 5G.
There are also other joint ventures. For example, the group signed with Dixon Technologies to manufacture a range of telecommunications products under the Production Incentive Program (PLI).
An internal R&D team will be at work for system integration and technology collaboration.
TCS is not the only player in the ORAN raffle. Tech Mahindra, outside of discussions with Airtel, has also expressed interest in bidding for the BSNL 4G network. Wipro and HCL Technologies also had talks with global players in this area. Among other things, Sterlite Technologies is building its own technology for ORAN radios while HFCL wants to go further and also manufacture the radio. Bengaluru-based Saankhya is also present, having developed 5G radio as well as base stations and chipsets.