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Jio-On the prowl?

After four years of 1000 engineers on the project, acquisition of Radisys and amalgamation of Rancore Technologies, Reliance Jio Infocomm has set its sights on developing its homegrown 5G offering, that it plans to export to other countries after deploying it in its own network in the coming year. Jio is ready with indigenously developed, 5G network solutions. It is planning to build its own 5G software stack and is likely to embrace OpenRAN techniques or possibly even Cloud-RAN as architecture.

Tareq Amin, who served as Jio’s SVP of Technology Development from 2013-18, currently working as CTO-Rakuten, that has recently got a nod to become Japan’s fourth major wireless carrier had set the tone.

This is in line with its global counterparts, that are for the first time building their own 5G virtualised networks. They are moving from the current hardware-dependent networks to ones that will be software-centric virtualised, open networks, with hardly any dependency on the underlying hardware, while also saving 40 percent in CapEx and 34 percent in OpEx.

Has Jio secretly developed a 5G solution the world hasn’t heard of? Probably not. But it has reason to exaggerate, as it clearly wants cheap spectrum and quick approvals for 5G trials while competition is still figuring out to rid their networks of Chinese vendors.

Jio is looking to acquire or form partnerships with domestic firms to develop competencies in building and manufacturing 5G products. The firm is well equipped, having secured over USD 20 billion in the last few months from the global who’s who of private equity and technology.

At the outset, it needs to address two of its weak spots, in manufacturing and radios. The Reliance Group itself certainly has manufacturing capabilities, and a partnership with ITI Limited would enhance these. But ITI suddenly moving into a new, challenging area of manufacturing will have doubters.

Moreover, Jio is missing the radio piece of the puzzle. Let’s say Jio sticks with Samsung, and doesn’t go full open RAN. Jio hasn’t committed either way, even if it is a member of the O-RAN Alliance. Samsung’s baseband supports both LTE and NR 5G with the same hardware, so it would not likely need a swap. But the radios would need an upgrade to Samsung’s Massive MIMO version, at the least. These are not manufactured in India, so it’s hard to pitch them as homegrown.

Even with a Samsung manufacturing move, Jio would not have control over the 5G solution and it’s hard to call this is a “Made in India platform.” Another possibility is that Jio is on the acquisition hunt, looking for open RAN players to fill the radio void. Altiostar and Mavenir just announced they would work together to develop a portfolio of open RAN-compliant radios designed for the US market, produced by third party OEMs. Altiostar is likely not for sale, given its links to Telefonica and Rakuten, but Mavenir or a smaller option may be available. Short of acquisition, Jio might be content to just do as Altiostar and Mavenir are doing: draw up the specs (using Rancore) and commission a third-party OEM to manufacture.

Jio is believed to be evaluating local firms to acquire or to form partnerships. It might be looking at domestic firms in line with the Atmanirbhar push by the Indian Government. There is speculation that Jio could be in dialogue with HFCL, Tejas Networks, Niral Networks, Lekha Wireless Solutions, VVDN Technologies, SignalChip, Nivetti Systems, Vihaan Networks, and Saankhya Labs!
CT Bureau

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