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White Box Systems Integration

OEMs: Reliance Jio Wants Only Your Software

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Telecom Infra Project 2017 Summit -- Equipment vendors like to talk about how they're becoming software companies. Reliance Jio is giving them that chance, whether they really want it or not.

In a talk at the TIP Summit earlier this week, Tareq Amin, senior vice president of infocomm for Reliance Jio , described how the Indian mobile carrier sprang up so quickly. Founded in 2016 and led by India's richest man, Mukesh Ambani, RJio gathered 134 million customers in its first 170 days, an average of seven per second. (See Where RJio Innovates, India's Incumbents Follow.)

One key was to offer extremely inexpensive plans, Amin said. And what allowed RJio to do that was inexpensive equipment -- disaggregated gear, where the hardware and software came from different sellers.

Normally, carriers buy hardware and software from an OEM such as Cisco and Ericsson. Often, that hardware is built by an ODM -- a company, often based in Taiwan, that specializes in assembling the gear and lets OEMs put their own logos onto the boxes.

RJio went directly to the ODMs with its hardware requirements, then separately bought the software from OEMs. "We wanted to own the entire hardware cycle for WiFi, and find credible vendors we could work with on software," Amin said.

It's like a white box strategy, only with hardware that was customized to RJio's specs, rather than generic gear -- and it meant that, in RJio's eyes, the OEMs became useful only as software vendors.


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This wasn't necessarily TIP-driven activity, but the strategy is in line with what TIP is promoting -- namely, dividing telecom gear into components that can be purchased separately. On paper, this gives operators more degrees of freedom while lowering the vendor lock-in factor.

"It is OK to create a new ecosystem. I think the challenge is not the technology. The challenge is creating the new ecosystem of how you can engage partners and OEMs," Amin said.

To pull this off, RJio acts as its own integrator, said Bruce Bateman, CTO of contract manufacturer Lite-On. Bateman gave a brief talk following Amin's, expanding on the idea of the new ecosystem and the role of the ODM, which is substantial. RJio is "not looking for piecemeal -- someone who can give them a radio, or someone who can give them an antenna," he said. "It's not about gluing things together."

Disaggregation isn't Reliance Jio's only trick. Amin also described an "OSS as-a-service" platform called Foresight, built from scratch in response to the normal telco structure of multiple OSS silos. It's an OpenStack-based platform that also includes big data elements, to process telemetry from the network. "Rather than rely on OSS integration, we started to integrate directly with EMS [element management systems]," Amin said.

For more about India's telecom industry, see these reports by Gagandeep Kaur:

— Craig Matsumoto, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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