Telecom operator Bharti Airtel and Tata Group, today announced a strategic partnership for implementing 5G networks solutions for India. The announcement comes at a time when all eyes are set on rival telco Jio’s upcoming shareholder meet when it is expected to make major product announcements.
Tata Group has developed an O-RAN based Radio & NSA/SA Core and has integrated aN indigenous telecom stack, leveraging the group’s capabilities and that of its partners. This will be available for commercial development starting Jan 2022.
The information technology arm of Tata Group-Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) will bring its global system integration expertise and align the end-to-end solution to both 3GPP and O-RAN standards, as the network and equipment are increasingly embedded into software.
Airtel will pilot and deploy this indigenous solution as part of its 5G rollout plans in India and start the pilot in January 2022, as per the guidelines formulated by the Government of India. Airtel is a board member of the O-RAN Alliance.
Gopal Vittal, MD & CEO (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.”
While everyone expected Reliance Jio to first launch 5G services in India, Bharti Airtel, in January, announced that it became the first telecom service provider in India to successfully “demonstrate and orchestrate” live 5G services in Hyderabad. The operator used its existing liberalised spectrum in the 1800 MHz band through the NSA (non-standalone) network technology to concurrently run 5G and 4G networks within the same spectrum block.
N. Ganapathy Subramaniam, COO, TCS said, “As a Group, we are excited about the opportunity presented by 5G and adjacent possibilities. We are committed to building a world-class networking equipment and solutions business to address these opportunities in the networking space. We are pleased to have Airtel as our customer in this initiative.”
From a Tata-Airtel perspective, this is an interesting partnership given that the two enterprises have also teamed up to apply for a license for the new umbrella entity (NUE) with the Reserve Bank Of India (RBI). Tata Group has submitted a bid to operate an NUE through its subsidiary Ferbine Pvt Ltd and is expected to hold the majority stake. Airtel Digital holds a 10% stake in it.
Tata Group is also going up against Jio’s parent Reliance Industry Limited (RIL) in its bid to launch a digital super-app B2C platform.
Airtel Vs Jio
Meanwhile, Airtel’s 5G announcement comes at a time when RIL is expected to make major announcements in the week during its annual general meeting (AGM) on June 24. The company may also launch its first low-cost 5G smartphone in partnership with the tech giant and investor Google during the AGM. Besides this, the company will also be launching its low-cost laptop range JioBook this year, which was earlier said to be powered by JioOS.
Airtel’s rival Reliance Jio, was the first Indian telco to have developed 5G technology in India from scratch with telecom major San Diego-based Qualcomm. The partnership also includes Radisys Corporation, a US subsidiary of Jio. In July 2020, Reliance Jio had raised INR 730 Cr from Qualcomm Ventures, the investment wing of Qualcomm. The investment gives Qualcomm 0.15% stake in Reliance Jio on a fully diluted basis. RIL has also partnered with Qualcomm to locally manufacture “critical equipment” to catalyse the 5G ecosystem in India.
Jio had reached out to department of telecommunication (DoT) last year seeking 5G spectrum last year even though there was no official announcement for an auction. The DoT had permitted telecommunications providers to conduct 5G trials with their partner original equipment manufacturers (OEM) and technology providers, provided they are not based out of China.