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Indian telcos warm up to open RAN

Indian service providers are slowly warming up to the concept of open RAN, which has emerged as the most significant trend in the global telecommunications market. 

Even so, speaking at the Digital Telco Virtual Summit last week, industry leaders highlighted the need for the open RAN ecosystem to mature before they are able to leverage the full benefits of the technology. 

"We are committed to 5G and open RAN. However, a standard-based open RAN solution is required. We are presently in a transition phase as the technology continues to mature," said Reliance Jio President Matthew Oommen.

Jio recently announced that it had developed its own 5G solution, which it plans to sell in the global market in the coming year. According to media reports, it's believed to be an open RAN solution, though Oommen didn't mention it in his speech.

Apart from Jio, Bharti Airtel, the second-largest service provider in the country, has started moving toward having a more open network.

"Airtel has already deployed vRAN using Altiostar software and hardware [from a different vendor] on our small cells. It is already working and serving our customers. Everybody will adopt open RAN going forward because it opens up possibilities of efficiencies," said Randeep Sekhon, CTO at Bharti Airtel.

"The ecosystem is very nascent right now, and once it is mature, you will see every supplier adopting it," he said.

Another Indian telco, Vodafone Idea, announced the deployment of Mavenir's open RAN solution earlier this year.

'A matter of time'
Japan's Rakuten, meanwhile, has emerged as one of the most prominent proponents of open RAN.

"It is a matter of time and not a matter of if," said Tareq Amin, CTO of Rakuten, speaking at the virtual event. "We [at Rakuten] have furnished evidence that it is possible. I am not saying everything is perfect, but because of the software layers that we have, our ability to make it perfect is much easier than a traditional operator."

Still, as telcos warm to open RAN, a Telefónica chief emphasized the need for established technology players to get involved.

"We are running a pilot in Munich, and we believe [open RAN is] the way to go. At the same time, unless Ericssons and Nokias of the world move into this technology disruption, it is not going to work," said Mallik Rao, CTIO at Telefónica Deutschland, which is currently working with Ericsson on its pilot.

"We cannot work only with niche players because you cannot have 40-45 million customers on a network you are unsure about," he added.


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