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Airtel signs deal with Ericsson to deploy 5G-ready solutions

Swedish telecom equipment manufacturer Ericsson will supply and deploy 5G-ready solutions for Bharti Airtel, as part of a renewed multi-year contract the two companies signed. This signals that Airtel might not use China’s Huawei’s gear in its 5G network. The companies did not reveal any financial details of the deal.

Earlier this year, it was reported that Airtel and Vi (previously Vodafone Idea) had partnered with Huawei to participate in India’s 5G field trials. However, since then, following the clash between India and China at the border, the Indian government has banned over 200 apps developed by Chinese companies, and restricted foreign investment coming from the country.

Huawei’s participation in India’s 5G trials was already being met with criticism, and the US had also been waging a global war against the company, calling it a security threat, and pressuring allies into excluding Huawei’s equipment from their 5G networks. Reliance Jio, Airtel and Vi’s competitor, has already said it is ready to deploy 5G network trials in India as soon as spectrum is available, and has boasted that its network doesn’t use a single Chinese component.

While so far the Indian government hasn’t ruled out Huawei’s participation in the 5G trials, media reports suggested that it was considering to prohibit Chinese companies from providing telecom equipment to state-run telcos BSNL and MTNL. Then in July, the Department of Telecommunications cancelled a tender for upgrading BSNL’s 4G network, reportedly to exclude Chinese companies from bidding. However, it is worth noting that more than half of BSNL’s telecom equipment is from Chinese companies ZTE and Huawei. Also, during a call with investors, Airtel’s CEO Gopal Vittal said that although the company values its partnerships with all vendors, it will comply with any government order.

In an announcement post, Ericsson also noted that LTE is the dominant technology in mobile networks, accounting for 49% of mobile subscriptions in 2019, and will continue to be dominant, representing 64% of mobile subscriptions in 2025. In India, the company estimates, LTE subscriptions will increase from 550 million in 2019 to 820 million in 2025. A June 2020 report released by Ericsson also showed that India has the highest usage per smartphone per month.

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