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Airtel, Jio CTOs say PLI scheme, OpenRAN to grow local 5G gear vendor ecosystem

Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio said that India’s local telecom vendor ecosystem will grow with the help of the OpenRAN technology and the recently introduced PLI scheme, which will allow new players to enter the market and innovate further. It said that the global telecom vendor industry has shrunk over the past few years due to consolidation.

Randeep Sekhon, CTO of Bharti Airtel told ET that the recently introduced production-linked scheme will help Indian suppliers to manufacturers locally and supply to the world. “…this is a great scheme and we should encourage it. In fact, we have been encouraging all our suppliers to see how they can move their factories to India and make this as a hub to supply to Asia, South Asia and even to Europe and other markets.”

Shyam Mardikar, group CTO – mobility at Reliance Jio separately said, “…this whole geopolitical issue is definitely creating a big gap or a big opportunity, which India can very easily see both from the cost of production perspective and also from the competence of a production perspective.”
“…the amount of Indians which are driving this whole setup is really, really big. Now, how can we actually amalgamate all of this together, get the right brains, get the right setup, get the right factories set this up. And I think a lot of good work has started happening again, thanks to the geopolitical things happening, and thanks to the government sponsorship [PLI], 5G is absolutely the right way to build it,” Mardikar added.

Sekhon said that with the backing of global tier one telecom operators and international companies, the OpenRAN ecosystem will catch the momentum.

“…it [OpenRAN] has a very bright future, because it will invoke not just innovation on the supplier ecosystem front, but since the world has shrunk to a couple of suppliers, we will need to open up this ecosystem for more innovation,” Sekhon said. “…we want people in India to make technologies and this will be only possible if the technology is open. Indian suppliers can come up with a smaller portion of the technology and still supply versus having to build the whole thing by themselves,” he added.
OpenRAN as a concept enables hardware and software to be dis-aggregated, unlike conventional radio gears, allowing technology products from different suppliers to co-exist with the various software providers. Indian telcos are eyeing OpenRAN as a viable method to cut network-related costs and bring in more customisations as they upgrade their networks to 5G technology.

The Sunil Mittal-led telecom operator recently partnered with US chipmaker Qualcomm Inc. for its 5G rollout in India. This comes shortly after Airtel’s demonstration of 5G services in Hyderabad over its live 4G network.

An OpenRAN (O-RAN) board member, Airtel said that it will leverage Qualcomm’s 5G RAN platforms – which runs on the cloud – to rollout virtualized and Open-RAN 5G networks in India.

5G services, as per Sekhon, will be first available to retail consumers who are looking to get better speeds for cloud gaming and entertainment. However, he said that the education and healthcare sectors should look at developing use cases leveraging high-speed technology first.

“…enterprise customers can have private networks and can also have edge to support their secure enterprise 4.0 use cases…there will be common threads of automation, there will be common threads of cloud and there will be common threads of 5G use cases of lower latencies and higher speeds and mass contingencies. It’s really a good phase we are entering into in making the Digital India journey even go faster,” Sekhon added.

Sekhon said that there will be 5G use cases which will be developed in India by local companies who can ship these use cases to global markets. “…we as telcos are always there to support them in whatever means, so that they can test their product. And then launch in India and bring it to the world…5G is a reset to the world where new kinds of use cases will emerge. And these new use cases will then probably become more prevalent around the world. So, why not Indian companies come back and innovate use cases which can be used by enterprises and retailers, retail customers across the world,” he said.

Jio’s Mardikar said that the enterprises have now realised that the need of connectivity is more important than the need of physical real estate. “…industry 4.0 again is this most enterprises did realise that this is not a sales pitch which telcos are making, this is something which is actually going to make their life easier, their people more productive, their capabilities much more intense,” he added. Koliasa

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