Both telecommunication companies awarded new deals to European equipment suppliers such as Nokia and Ericsson during the year. In particular, Chinese suppliers Huawei and ZTE saw their business drop dramatically in 2020 due to geo-poloitic reasons.
The head of Nokia India recently told ETTelecom that the equipment supplier has concluded more than 100 deals in 2020 in the country. One of the largest contracts was the Airtel 4G expansion deal worth over $ 1 billion to implement a single RAN solution in nine telecommunication circles which are Gujarat, Maharashtra, Mumbai, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Odisha, West Bengal, Bihar and UP East.
As part of this agreement, Nokia will distribute 300,000 radio units over the next three years to help telecommunications increase network capacity.
The radio deal was followed by another cloud deal with Airtel. Under the new agreement, Nokia’s CloudBand-based software products power India’s voice over LTE (VoLTE) telecommunications network. The Finnish company powers Airtel’s VoLTE in 22 circles, its European rival Ericsson provides IMS-based VoLTE in the Rajasthani telecom circle.
On November 4, ETTelecom reported that it is likely that Airtel will soon replace ZTE with Nokia as the leading supplier of 4G network devices in the Punjab circle for future expansion and modernization.
Bharti Airtel also awarded new business to Swedish telecommunications equipment manufacturer Ericsson. In July of this year, telecommunications renewed the contract for managed network operations across India.
The managed services contract was originally signed in late 2016 to cover Airtel’s 2G, 3G and 4G LTE networks in all 22 circles across the country. The value was set at $ 500 million (Rs 3,350 crore) in 2016. Analysts said the renewed contract value will be much lower.
The managed services contract was followed by the renewal of the 4G network contract in October for eight telecommunication circles, including Rajasthan and the rest of the Tamil Nadu circles, which were previously supported by China’s Huawei.
Despite its association with traditional suppliers, Sunil Mittal has made efforts in the OpenRan and Virtual RAN (vRAN) areas. It has partnered with US-based Altiostar to implement the software-centric cloud-based open vRAN solution to deploy vRAN-based 4G and 5G services, applications and use cases on its network.
As part of its efforts to position itself as a 5G-ready telecom company, Airtel in May selected US IT giant IBM and Red Hat to deploy a new Cloud telecom network. The agreement enabled Airtel to leverage IBM and Red Hat’s portfolio of hybrid cloud and enterprise cognitive capabilities to adopt an open cloud architecture based on Red Hat OpenStack.
Vodafone Idea, which renamed itself Vi and completed its network integration this year, also made some efforts despite its poor financial situation. In June, the cash-strapped telecom company said it had completed the first phase of the world’s largest dynamic spectrum refarming (DSR) in India with Nokia, which also ran India’s largest mimo distribution.
ETTelecom had reported that due to its inability to pay its dues, its supplier partners had stopped orders for further expansion, which deteriorated the network experience leading to a massive loss of subscribers.
In order to reduce costs, Vi adopted a cluster-based model and grouped its circles into 10 clusters across the country to ensure “one-size-fits-all” focus on operational intensity and results.
The telecommunications company still aims to raise funds to cancel AGR’s shares and expand networks. However, it still managed to secure a partnership with Nokia to deliver future-ready services and cutting-edge technologies such as Fixed Wireless Access (FWA), private wireless, and gigabit passive optical networks (GPON) to enterprises.
The third largest telecom company in India also chose IBM in October to implement the Big Data platform on the open source Hadoop framework. The two companies are already working together on cloud transformation as part of an agreement signed earlier this year to deliver its Open Universal Cloud with IBM and Red Hat to accelerate network and IT modernization.
Vodafone Idea also revealed that it was running OpenRAN trials with Mavenir, who also managed to capture the telco’s chief technology officer, Vishant Vora. Vora now serves Mavenir as president of global operations and managed services
Reliance Jio works with Samsung of South Korea on its pan-Indian 4G network. This year, the telecom goal was to develop in-house capabilities to build 4G and 5G equipment and solutions.
In 2020, Jio replaced many 4G network components with its own production solutions. It has developed its own IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem), which feeds its voice on LTE or VoLTE services nationwide and handles more than 10 billion call minutes on a daily basis.
ETTelecom reported in March that Jio had replaced Nokia and Oracle’s 4G voice technology with its own from its pan-Indian network. Jio’s IP Multimedia Subsystem (vIMS) solution for VoLTE and VoWiFi is available from October 2019. It previously used Nokia and Oracle’s IMS and related technology to deliver 4G voice service.
Shyam Mardikar, CTO of Jio-Mobility group, told ETTelecom that the telecommunications company was working on “fine-tuning” its 4G network to prepare for 5G services in the country.
Samsung is looking to acquire new network business in India, having terminated its exclusive relationship with Reliance Jio on 4G. The Korean telecom provider initially initiated exploratory talks with Airtel and Vodafone Idea last year for 4G and 5G technologies. It had even bought the BSNL 4G notice, which was scrapped by the government.
ZTE’s business in India has now gradually shrunk and currently maintains networks in three circles for Vodafone Idea and six service areas for state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd., state-owned telecom companies are also under increasing pressure from the government to stop sourcing equipment from Chinese suppliers.
ETTelecom recently reported that Airtel will soon ZTE with Nokia as the main supplier of 4G network devices in the Punjab circle for future expansion and modernization. In addition to Punjab, ZTE supplies 4G network equipment to Airtel in the Haryana and Kolkata circles.
Huawei now also works with Airtel in just two circles Karnataka and UP (West), compared to the previous four. However, it has a larger footprint with Vodafone Idea in India, where it supplies 4G devices in seven circles.
Indian telecom companies, notably Airtel, are keeping Chinese suppliers out of new contracts even for the non-wireless or non-RAN parts of their networks, which are more prone to hacking and are crucial from a data security perspective. .
Analysts say Indian telecom companies would need at least four years to remove Chinese equipment from their networks. However, if the government orders carriers to quickly remove Chinese suppliers, telecom companies can do the trade in less than a year, but that will increase their short-term combined investments by about $ 2 billion.
Jio, Airtel eye 5G equipment space
Reliance Jio and Airtel are working on home-grown 5G solutions. Jio is currently looking for partners to fully develop the 5G portfolio and will soon begin discussions with various local players in the domain of systems integration and local manufacturing of its 5G devices.
Airtel, on the other hand, will work with American and Japanese suppliers Mavenir, Xilinx and Altiostar (part owned by Japan’s Rakuten), NEC and Sercom of Taiwan to develop an ecosystem for 5G solutions locally using OpenRAN technology.
A complete local 5G ecosystem and the ability to develop telecommunications equipment will allow both Airtel and Jio to have better control over the supply chain and reduce overall network implementation costs by looking beyond traditional suppliers who charge a premium for their products and technology.