Bharti Airtel and Tata Group on Monday announced a strategic partnership for implementing 5G network solutions for India. The announcement underscores a push for indigenous 5G solutions in India, as the world's second-largest telecom market gears up for fifth-generation mobile networks that would enable connecting virtually everything together including machines, objects, and devices at ultra-high speeds.
Notably, the partnership with Tata Group allows telecom operator Airtel to take head-on, rival Jio's pitch on homegrown 5G solutions. Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Jio is accelerating the rollout of digital platforms and indigenously-developed next-generation 5G stack.
On Monday, Airtel and Tata Group/TCS announced a collaboration for 'Made in India' 5G. Tata Group has developed O-RAN (Open Radio Access Network) based Radio and core elements and integrated a totally indigenous telecom stack, while Airtel will pilot and deploy this indigenous solution as part of its 5G rollout plans in India, with a pilot beginning in January 2022, as per the norms formulated by the government.
Tata Group has developed "O-RAN (Open Radio Access Network) based Radio and NSA/SA (Non-Standalone/standalone) Core and has integrated a totally indigenous telecom stack, leveraging the Group capabilities and that of its partners", a statement said. This will be available for commercial development starting January 2022.
"Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) brings its global system integration expertise and helps align the end-to-end solution to both 3GPP and O-RAN standards, as the network and equipment are increasingly embedded into software," the statement added.
These 'Made in India' 5G products and solutions are aligned to global standards and interoperate with other products based on standard open interfaces and those defined by the O-RAN Alliance. The 5G solutions, once commercially proven in Airtel's diverse and brownfield network will open export opportunities for India.
Open RAN or open radio access network architecture is industry terminology for interoperability and standardisation of radio access network elements including products and software from various vendors. Gopal Vittal, Chief Executive Officer (India and South Asia) Bharti Airtel said, “We are delighted to join forces with the Tata Group to make India a global hub for 5G and allied technologies. With its world-class technology ecosystem and talent pool, India is well-positioned to build cutting edge solutions and applications for the world".
This will also provide a massive boost to India becoming an innovation and manufacturing destination, Vittal added.
Commenting on the development, N Ganapathy Subramaniam from the Tata Group/ TCS said, “As a Group, we are excited about the opportunity presented by 5G and adjacent possibilities". Expressing the Group's commitment to building a world-class networking equipment and solutions business to address opportunities in the networking space, Subramaniam said, "We are pleased to have Airtel as our customer in this initiative".
Tata group's telecom and media enterprises cater to the communication requirements of global business houses to Small and Medium Enterprises, and from wholesale to home networks. India's largest software company Tata Consultancy Services Limited (TCS) is a member of the O-RAN Alliance, which is a global community of mobile network operators, vendors, and research and academic institutions operating in the Radio Access Network (RAN) industry.
Airtel is a board member of the O-RAN Alliance and is committed to explore and implement O-RAN-based networks in India, the statement noted. "The partnership looks like it ticks all the right boxes it is a made in India solution that will be deployed in the world's second-largest telecom market, and consequently have significant export appeal. A homegrown solution may also (eventually) help address information security, data security, and localisation concerns that stakeholders are likely to have," Zain Pandit, Partner, J Sagar Associates said.
Earlier this year, Airtel became the first telecom company in India to demonstrate 5G over its live network in the city of Hyderabad. The company has started 5G trials in major cities using spectrum allocated by the Department of Telecom. It may be recalled that the Department of Telecom (DoT) had recently allocated spectrum to operators to start 5G trials, in the country. The trials will be conducted at various locations, including Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Gujarat, Hyderabad, among others, industry sources say.
In fact, Jio's 5G trials in Mumbai are based on an indigenous 5G stack, which it has developed. 5G technology and services would enable subscribers to experience the benefits of higher data rates, low latency communications, and enhanced digital experiences across a range of connected devices, from 5G-enabled smartphones, enterprise laptops to Internet of Things (IoT) solutions. A recent report by Ericsson has estimated that at least 40 million smartphone users in India could take up 5G in the first year when the next-generation service is made available to them.