India's RJio is seeking permission from local regulators to carry out 5G trials based on its own, inhouse technology and not that developed by mainstream suppliers, according to press reports.
The operator, which has already shaken up the Indian market with its low-cost plans, had previously applied to carry out 5G trials with Samsung, a South Korean equipment vendor that is RJio's sole 4G radio vendor. Now RJio wants to use its own gear, network architecture and infrastructure for 5G trials. If those are successful, it may outsource the technology for manufacturing.
Few operators develop their own mobile technology from scratch, but the move by RJio is not altogether surprising. How the company went about setting up its 4G network shows an inclination to develop its own infrastructure as much as possible.
For several years after RJio procured 4G spectrum in 2010, 4G technology was not ready for commercial deployment in India. Over this period, Rancore Technologies, a subsidiary of RJio parent company Reliance Industries, carried out 4G research and trials in a bid to develop the 4G ecosystem and prepare for a commercial launch. India's operators are not known for conducting groundbreaking technology tests, and several vendors at the time indicated they were surprised by Reliance Industries' extensive tests.
The result of those tests was the decision to use Samsung, a relative newcomer in the radio access network market. Indeed, RJio so far remains the only known customer of Samsung in India. Besides hiring Samsung, RJio also teamed up with Bell Labs (later Nokia Bell Labs) to explore ways of providing voice services on the 4G network.
All this demonstrates RJio's track record of conducting its own research and trials before launching services. It now seems eager to emulate its 4G experience in 5G, finding the best technology options before launching 5G services. The 5G tests look like a step in this direction.
On top of this, RJio has been keen to establish itself as an innovator in the telecom space. A case in point is the extensive collaboration it has with the developer community to create products and services specifically for the Indian market. A 5G trial based on its own technology could burnish its image as an innovator and "thought leader" in the communications segment. (See India's RJio Plots Open Source Disruption.)
Now a part of RJio, Rancore Technologies seems likely to play a significant role in these 5G plans. And it is not the only vendor that has been subsumed into the business. In 2018, RJio bought Radisys, a US systems and software vendor, to support what Akash Ambani, RJio's chief strategy officer, described as a push for "global innovation and technology leadership in the areas of 5G, IoT [Internet of Things] and open source architecture adoption." (See India's Reliance Industries Snaps Up Radisys .)
As India's newest telco, RJio has made investments in a highly sophisticated, all-IP network that should provide a good foundation for 5G. Of similar use will be its fiber network, now India's most extensive at about 1.1 million kilometers. These assets put RJio in a better 5G position than its rivals. (See How RJio Built India's Most Automated Network.)
RJio's strategy of conducting a 5G trial based on its design is also in keeping with the government's Make in India policy to promote local manufacturing. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has been asking telcos to opt for India-made gear. It has even provided incentives based on three categories: designed in India but manufactured abroad; designed and manufactured in India; and designed abroad but manufactured in India. RJio's initiatives are likely to fall under the first two categories.
After a court ruling that went against them, India's other operators, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea, are busy scrambling for resources to pay off historical licensing fees they now owe the government. That leaves RJio relatively free to take a lead in the 5G space. Its trials, if successful, will clearly set a precedent.
— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading