Airtel has partnered with the telecom gear maker Qualcomm for its 5G network rollout, the companies announced in a press release on Tuesday. “Through Airtel’s network vendors and device partners, Airtel will utilize the Qualcomm 5G RAN Platforms to roll-out virtualized and Open RAN-based 5G networks,” both companies said. Open RAN is a tech stack that is emerging as an alternative for telcos around the world who are being dissuaded from using Chinese telecom gear from companies like Huawei and ZTE.
The development comes in light of telcos are reportedly watching their spending given the upcoming spectrum auctions and in anticipation of another round of auctions where 5G spectrum will be sold. The technology is nowhere near mainstream adoption in India; deployments even in urban centres are likely only after 5G supporting handsets make decent headway into the country, which may take some time.
Fixed Wireless Access
In another notable use case, the companies said Airtel would be using Qualcomm’s tech to enable providing home broadband using fixed wireless access. This is significant because the technology envisions using neighbourhood or street level radios to connect homes with broadband, as opposed to laying cables to every residence. This is what Airtel has had to say about Fixed Wireless Access 5Gin the past:
Unavailability of sufficient licensed spectrum and high cost of end device ecosystem such as outdoor CPEs [customer-premises equipment] limit the use of FWA technology for the provision of fixed broadband.
With wireless broadband being the medium largely being used for broadband access, the access spectrum assigned to the operators is used extensively. FWA is largely provisioned on the 2300 MHz/ 2500 MHz band in the case of 4G/ LTE. For FWA provision on this access spectrum, capacity needs to be carved out from the existing wireless network, which is impossible considering the high usage on the wireless network.
In the future, spectrum in the sub-6 GHz band (i.e. 3.5 GHz band) and mm-Wave can also be used with 5G to deploy FWA technology. Such an access will require at least 100MHz in the sub-6 GHz band and 400 MHz or higher in the mm-Wave band. Hence, any use of the access spectrum for FWA requires the allocation of a sufficient licensed spectrum at an affordable price to the operators. The outdoor CPEs deployed for FWA are costlier, which raises the cost of ownership for the customer. We believe that with proliferation, this cost too can come down.
Hence, to facilitate the use of FWA technology for the delivery of fixed broadband services, sufficient access spectrum should be made available at affordable prices to the operators.
So if Airtel is serious about deploying FWAs, it appears it would be contingent on sub-6GHz spectrum being available at a reasonable cost.