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5G deals promise to change vendor landscape in India

All Indian private telcos, including Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea, have handed out 5G gear contracts to vendors, according to media reports.

Reliance Jio, which has been working exclusively with Samsung on its radio access network for 4G, has apparently now decided to hand over at least a part of the 5G RAN deal to Swedish vendor Ericsson.

"If Ericsson and/or Nokia are introduced then it's a big win for these vendors and a loss of market share for Samsung," said Omdia's Remy Pascal.

Even when the technology is ready to be deployed, Indian vendors might not be able to compete with established vendors in price.
 (Source: Per Bengston/Alamy Stock Photo)
Even when the technology is ready to be deployed, Indian vendors might not be able to compete with established vendors in price.
(Source: Per Bengston/Alamy Stock Photo)

"What we don't know is how the business will be allocated, and of course the impact is not the same if it's equally shared between two vendors, between three vendors, or if there is a primary vendor with high market share and secondary vendor(s) for example."

Reliance Jio is Samsung's only customer in India, but this could change with Airtel also reportedly planning to use their gear. If this happens, it would be the first time Airtel works with Samsung. This would mean a major increase in the South Korean giant's presence in India, assuming that it is part of both Jio and Airtel's 5G networks.

Pascal believes vendor diversity could be the reason for Airtel and Jio to go beyond the vendors they have been working with for several years.

"The decisions of both operators [Jio and Airtel] are not surprising. Operators want vendor diversity to secure their supply chain and foster competition," he said.

"Using different vendors in different regions does not give as much flexibility as open RAN-based mix-and-match but it is nonetheless a form of vendor diversity. And by the way, there could also be an open RAN element in these deals, we don't have the details."

Whither self-reliance?

If the report turns out to be true, it raises the question of whether the private service providers have completely ignored India's push for self-reliance. The Indian government has been promoting the adoption of indigenous technology as part of its Atma Nirbhar (self-reliance) policy.

"This is a very ambitious policy and this is maybe achievable but it will take time, and while the Indian industry seems to be making good progress, homegrown solutions are not yet fully competitive," said Pascal.

Even when the technology is ready to be deployed, Indian vendors might not be able to compete with established vendors in price.


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Jio, which has mentioned on several occasions that it does not use any Chinese component in its network, has also refrained from using indigenously developed RAN if the report is accurate. However, the doors are still not closed to Indian vendors as the telcos may still add indigenous products and solutions later.

"Operators could for example ask openness guarantees to their selected vendors so that they keep their options open and have the possibility to introduce an Indian radio vendor at some point in the future if they wish to do so," said Pascal.

India announced the conclusion of the 5G spectrum auction yesterday, and the telcos are likely to launch commercial 5G contracts by October 2022.

Awarding major RAN deals to European vendors also closes the door for Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE. Anti-China sentiment in India, coupled with security concerns, has ensured that Chinese vendors are unable to participate in 5G deals.

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— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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