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Indian tech firms were ready with 5G solutions even before Jio’s foray

Even as Reliance Jio’s global plans for its indigenous 5G telecom solutions made headlines, several Indian companies across software and technology solutions have already been rolling out their own global 5G solutions.

From Tech Mahindra, Cyient, ITI Ltd to Sterlite Technologies Ltd and Saankhya Labs, these companies have built 5G expertise across core telecom solutions such as virtual radio access networks (VRAN), Open RAN (ORAN), chipsets and hardware, which Jio can possibly tap into for its homegrown solutions.

In fact, Jio’s Japanese peer Rakuten is already in talks with a number of Indian providers for their 5G solutions and experts estimate Jio will also onboard additional solutions from these companies.

According to a UBS Evidence Lab survey from December 2019, 59% of telcos were already using network virtualization and 51% were willing to work with non-traditional vendors, suggesting these trends are opening ways for niche players, such as Jio, to get a share of global telco capex spend.

According to telecom experts, Jio could theoretically have a 15% cost advantage in 5G rollout if it uses self-built software. But there is a high possibility that Jio will extend partnerships with existing Indian providers in the 5G space to offer these solutions.

“We believe the trend of (network) virtualization does provide opportunity for newcomers to take share in telecom equipment/capex, but the incumbents continue to have advantages of reach, customer relationships and ability to sustain elevated spend on R&D. All these could allow Jio to take perhaps a small share of the market,” said a UBS report on 21 August.

Network virtualization solutions can only work with a strong optical fibre cable (OFC) backbone. One of the leading OFC manufacturers globally, Sterlite Technologies Ltd (STL), has evolved from core manufacturing to digital networks services through acquisitions across software solutions over the past years to include solutions for virtualized access, network software products and system integration services.

Anand Agarwal, Group CEO, STL told Mint that they are currently strengthening solutions across ORAN as well. “We see a demand for wireless beyond the OFC penetration and different countries are at different adoption levels. Solutions such as 4G LTE and Wi-Fi 6 will be increasingly relevant for many regions where we are already working.”

Another homegrown company, Saankhya Labs, also owns intellectual property and provides radio units and chipsets for VRAN deployments.

According to Bernstein research, IT spend by communication, media and services was a $196-billion market in 2019 and almost 15-40% of Indian IT revenues come from telecom solutions. These include software and services (design of networks, network rollout, stack upgrade/modernization, monitoring of 5G Network operation centre (NOC)). Telecom original equipment manufacturers get the majority of initial consulting and design work from these providers.

Tech Mahindra has a 17% stake in telecom software provider Altiostar, which is already rolling out cloud-based solutions for Japanese telco Rakuten. Globally, the company has been offering solutions across software-defined and cloud native networks, adoption of disaggregated networks and VRAN, among others, across markets in US, Europe and Japan.

“We work with all the major telecom service providers in India as well and are also invested in creating the India stack. We intend to lower the total cost of operations to bring the best network components together by collaborating with design houses and manufacturers,” said Manish Vyas, President, Communications, Media & Entertainment and CEO, Network Services, Tech Mahindra.

Recently, Tech Mahindra announced a partnership with ITI, which has large manufacturing facilities, to enable manufacturing of 4G equipment and work on building capabilities for 5G equipment for the Indian market.

Another Indian company that has been present in this space is Cyient which provides intelligent network solutions for global telcos and is closely involved in 5G rollouts across Australia, South Korea, US and Europe among others apart from multiple telecom carriers globally.

“We have launched 5G assets such as towers and small cells in Australia in recent months. We are also deploying intelligent fibre networks smart cities in UK,” said Prabhakar Atla, Senior Vice President–Communications and Rail Transportation, Cyient.

One of the key solutions that Cyient provides is geospatial mapping of regions before fibre networks are deployed, to help telcos map where and how they need to lay out the cables. It is followed up with intelligent network configuration solutions, which is essential for 5G trials to begin. Live Mint

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