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Airtel not so convinced about Taara technology for backhaul

Bharti Airtel is not convinced about the effectiveness of using Taara as a wireless backhaul technology commercially in India, two people aware of the matter said.

This is since ongoing field trials have indicated that the technology, which uses light beams to deliver fast broadband, may not work efficiently in inclement weather in rural and hard-to-reach places, the people said. That could affect the mobile broadband experience for 4G/5G users in such locations if the telco does not also have adequate back-up fibre and microwave networks.

Airtel was keen to use the technology as a cost-effective way to deliver wireless backhaul — or connectivity between the telco’s mobile towers and its core network — to ensure uninterrupted 4G/5G coverage in rural and mountainous regions where there aren’t enough towers or terrestrial backhaul links via fibre networks.

Airtel insiders now believe more extensive joint field trials are required to assess the technical and commercial viability of the technology in India, especially in poor weather conditions.

Taara’s laser Internet technology was developed at Alphabet’s California innovation lab, called X. It uses light beams to transmit data at speeds up to 20 Gbps. The X website notes that like fibre, but without cables, Project Taara uses light to transmit information at high speeds through air in the form of a very narrow, invisible beam.

X notes on its website that the company is hopeful that Taara’s technology can play a vital role in Airtel’s 5G network expansion.

Industry experts aware of the Airtel-Alphabet pilots that started four years ago said Taara’s laser-based technology cannot be a standalone wireless backhaul support for Airtel and can at best be a complementary technology when weather conditions are good. Airtel, they added, would anyways have back-up fibre and microwave networks to ensure unhindered 4G and 5G coverage in rural and inhospitable locations.

In addition, Airtel also now has the option to use satellite broadband technology from group company, Eutelsat-OneWeb, to lend backhaul support to its 4G/5G operations in rural India.

Airtel has been expanding its 5G network since October 2022 and is slated to have pan-India 5G coverage in a few months.

The Taara team has reportedly designed a machine that resembles traffic lights that beam the laser carrying data at fast speeds in remote locations. A potential telco partner like Airtel was to build out the communications infrastructure in these places and use Taara’s machines.

In June, an X spokeswoman told ET that the partnership with Airtel entailed the largest deployment of Taara’s wireless optical communications links with a single customer in India to date. She had then added that Taara’s laser internet technology could potentially help telcos offer most affordable data prices per gigabyte by eliminating costs related to digging trenches or stringing cables along poles.

Last year, Google announced an investment of up to $1 billion in Bharti Airtel. Of this, $700 million was for a 1.28% stake, while the balance $300 million would be pumped in over five years as part of commercial pacts to make smartphones more affordable to drive 4G upgrades and also jointly develop network domain 5G use cases. Telecom Talk

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