Bharti Airtel And Qualcomm Team Up Counter Jio In War Over 5G in India

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Bharti Airtel has finally got a strong team player to counter the plans of Jio to dominate the 5G market of India.

In a fresh series of developments, Bharti Airtel, the Indian telecom heavyweight #2, has formed a union with American chipmaker Qualcomm Inc. for the much-awaited 5G rollout in India.

The announcement of the team-up comes crisply timed, with Airtel having completed a very successful demonstration of 5G services in Hyderabad only recently in January. By using its existing liberalised spectrum in the 1800 MHz band through the Non-Standalone Network technology to concurrently run 5G and 4G network within the same spectrum block in the demo, it validated Airtel’s credentials as the first 5G-ready telco that can deploy and deliver the tech across all domains – radio, core or transport.

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As for the deal with the semiconductor maker, Airtel will expectedly leverage Qualcomm’s 5G RAN Platforms to unfurl virtualized and Open-RAN 5G networks in India.

With O-RAN in the bag, the tech’s flexible and scalable architecture will be central in paving the way forward for small and medium-sized businesses to become engaged in the deployment of 5G networks.

Both the companies are reportedly collaborating further for enabling a vast line-up of use cases including the 5G fixed wireless access (FWA) in tandem to dole out affordable broadband services across the country.

The technology in question, RAN, provides radio access and assists to coordinate network resources across wireless devices. Usually, devices connect to a cellular network via LTE or 5G NR connections. It is the silicon chips in the core network as well as in the user equipment (like our phone or laptop) that helps enable the functionalities of the RAN.

With the announcement, the pressure will mount on the Indian telecom sector to auction 5G airwaves. Telecom service providers globally and domestically are in a scramble for the 5G roll out, the introduction of which promises to boost up internet speeds to 20X than existing networks.

As it happens – the 5G tech goldmine that is proving to be – this will be Qualcomm’s second partnership with a telco in India. It was just back in October of 2020 that eternal rival Jio, along with its wholly-owned subsidiary Radisys Corporation, entered in partnership with Qualcomm developed open and interoperable interface compliant architecture based 5G solutions with a virtualized RAN.

Reliance Jio’s ambitious plans are known to all, and it has claimed that their in-house 5G solution is up and ready for the challenge as and when airwaves are made available.

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During the course of their partnership, Jio and Qualcomm have been able to achieve the 1 Gbps milestone on the Reliance Jio 5GNR solution. Apart from that milestone, Reliance Industries had also raised close to $97 million from Qualcomm Ventures – the investment arm of Qualcomm- for the digital unit that houses Jio last year itself.

Now, as Airtel has done in collaborations with Huawei, ZTE, Ericsson and Nokia for 5G trials, it will aim to leverage the whole of Qualcomm’s Open RAN and 5G Fixed Wireless Access Platform, which can comfortably support any combination of 5G spectrum bands and modes, to accelerate developments of 5G applications.

Counterpoint research has estimated that 5G FWA will power approx. 20 million households by this decade’s end.

In the Indian landscape, it appears that the race for the 5G market is spearheaded by the two telecom giants Reliance Jio and Airtel, both of whom are on the lookout for the early mover’s advantage. Who comes up trumps will determine a generation of superiority.

Stay tuned for more updates.

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