Starlink to explore collaboration with Indian telcos for broadband internet services

SpaceX subsidiary Starlink is planning to explore collaboration with telecom companies in India to expand broadband internet services in the country with a focus on rural areas, a top company official said on Friday.  Starlink Country Director India Sanjay Bhargava told that discussions with broadband service providers will start once the 12 Phase-1 aspirational districts are identified by the Niti Aayog and the company will see the interest levels of the various players and the USOF (universal service obligation fund).

“I am hoping that we will get a time-bound 100 per cent broadband plan that can serve as a model for other districts but the devil is in the details and there may be many good reasons why one or more broadband providers do not want to collaborate, though to me that seems unlikely,” Bhargava said.

Starlink claims to have received over 5,000 pre-orders from India. The company is charging a deposit of $99 or Rs 7,350 per customer and claims to deliver data speeds in the range of 50-150 megabits per second in the beta stage.

Bhargava had earlier announced that the company will focus on 10 rural Lok Sabha constituencies to provide internet services for 80 per cent of the Starlink terminals shipped to India. “At Starlink, we can roll out fast if we have licensing approval and…the Starlink’s could move to other remote areas,” Bhargava said.  In a social media post, Bhargava said the company wants to collaborate with all. “We want to collaborate with all and have others besides us licensed to provide satellite broadband so that satellite plus terrestrial together can provide 100 per cent broadband, especially in rural districts,” he said.  There have been some reports of Starlink considering manufacturing of terminals to provide satellite broadband services in India, but Bhargava said the company is not actively thinking about making terminals for broadband locally.

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Tech billionaire Elon Musk has said on Twitter that his aerospace company SpaceX may soon launch satellite-based internet service Starlink in India. Musk responded to a Twitter post that the company is exploring how the regulatory approval process in the country will work for Starlink.  Musk said, “The regulatory approval process is being explored.”

Starlink recently shipped 100,000 terminals to customers. The objective of this project is to provide global broadband connectivity through a cluster of satellites. SpaceX began satellite launches in November 2019 and opened its $99 (Rs 7,223) per month beta program to select customers about a year later.

References:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/elon-musks-starlink-to-explore-collaboration-with-indian-telcos-for-broadband/articleshow/87541476.cms

starlink plans: Jio-Airtel Vacation! Musk’s internet service is about to be launched, beta users are paying this much for the month – Elon musk has stated on twitter that his satellite based internet service starlink soon in india soon

 

Open RAN: A game-changer for mobile communications in India?

The author is a former Advisor, Department of Telecommunications (DoT), Government of India

The mobile network comprises two domains: The Radio Access Network (RAN) and the Core Network. The RAN is the final link between the network and the phone. It includes an antenna on the tower plus the base station. Though it was possible for the operators to have one vendor for the core and a separate vendor for the RAN, the same was not done because of interoperability issues.

Open RAN is the hot topic now-a-days and most talked about technology, both in diplomatic and technical circles. This is a three year old technology and fifty operators in more than two fifty countries have deployed open RAN. First it was deployed in the network of Rakuten mobile, a Japanese telecom service provider. This technology makes RAN agnostic to vendors, programmable and converts it to plug & play type. Open RAN is at the epicentre of the digital transformation and plays a critical role in bringing more diversity to the 5G ecosystem. It is required for faster 5G rollout. Domestic (India) vendors may get the opportunity to supply the building blocks of RAN and so it is an initiative towards ‘self-reliant India.’

The RAN accounts for 60 per cent of capex/opex of mobile networks and so a lot of focus is there to reduce RAN costs. 5G signals have a shorter range than previous generation signals. As a result 5G networks require more base stations to provide the required coverage. So in 5G networks this percentage may be still higher.

Open RAN implementation reduces RAN costs. Instead of concentrating on making end-to-end open, opening the RAN ecosystem is given priority by the operators. The open RAN standards aim to undo the siloed nature of the RAN market where a handful of RAN vendors only offer equipment and software that is totally proprietary. Proprietary products are typically more expensive than their generic counterparts. Cellular networks have been evolving with various innovations. It has evolved from 1G to 5G. With these evolutions networks are evolving towards open networks having open interface and interoperability. Open RAN is a term used for industry wide standards for RAN interfaces that support interoperation between different vendor’s equipment and offer network flexibility at a lower cost. The main purpose of open RAN is to have an interoperability standard for RAN elements including non-proprietary hardware and software from different vendors. An open environment means an expanded ecosystem, with more vendors providing the building blocks. Open RAN helps the operators to overcome  “Vendor lock in” introducing ‘best of breed’ network solutions.

There will be more innovations and more options for the operators. With a multi -vendor catalog of technologies, network operators have the flexibility to tailor the functionality of their RANs to the operators’ needs. They can add new services easily. Open RAN gives new equipment vendors the chance to enter the market with Commercial off the shelf (COTS) hardware. An influx of new vendors will spur competition. Cell site deployment will be faster. Third Party products can communicate with the main RAN vendor’s infrastructure. New features can be added more quickly for end users.

Current RAN technology is provided as a hardware and software integrated platform. The aim of open RAN is to create a multi supplier RAN solution that allows for the separation or disaggregation between hardware and software with open interface. Open RAN is about disaggregated RAN functionality built using open interface specifications between blocks. It can be implemented in vendor neutral hardware and software based on open interfaces and community developed standards.

In an open RAN environment, the RAN is disaggregated into three main building blocks:

  • Radio Unit (RU)
  • Distribution unit (DU)
  • Centralized unit(CU)

The RU is where the radiofrequency signals are transmitted, received, amplified and digitized. It is located near or integrated into the antenna. The DU and CU are parts of the base station that send the digitized radio signal into the network. The DU is physically located at or near the RU whereas the CU can be located nearer the Core. DU is connected with RU on Optical Fiber cable. The concept of open RAN is opening the protocols and interfaces between these building blocks (radio, hardware and software) in the RAN.

Another feature of Open RAN is the RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) which adds programmability to the RAN. For example, Artificial Intelligence can be introduced via the RIC to optimise the performance of the network in the vicinity of a cricket stadium on a match day. The RIC works by exposing an API (Application Programming Interface) which lets software talk to each other. There are two types of RIC: near-real time and non real time. Both perform logical functions for controlling and optimizing the elements and resources of open RAN. A near-real time RIC (response time on the order of 10’s of milliseconds) controls and optimizes elements and resources with data collection and communication. A non-real time RIC (response time greater than one second) uses AI and Machine Learning (ML) workflows that include model training, where the workflows learn how to better control and optimize the RAN elements and resources.

The O-RAN alliance has defined eleven different interfaces within the RAN including those for:

Front haul between RU and DU Mid haul between DU and CU Backhaul connecting the RAN to the Core (also called as transport network)

O-RAN alliance is a specification group defining next generation RAN infrastructures, empowered by principles of intelligence and openness. Openness allows smaller players in the RAN market to launch their own services. It was founded in 2018.

O-RAN alliance is a worldwide community of around two hundred mobile operators, vendors and research and academic institutions operating in the Radio Access Network industry. Its goals include to build mechanisms for enabling AI and ML for more efficient network management and orchestration. It supports its members in testing and implementation of their open RAN implementation. O-RAN conducts world wide plug tests to demonstrate the functionality as well as the multi vendor interoperability of open network equipment. O-RAN alliance develops, drives and enforces standards to ensure that equipment from multiple vendors interoperate with each other. It creates standards where none are available, for example Front haul and creates profiles for interoperability testing where standards are available.

Open RAN challenges:

1. Integration of equipment from multiple vendors

2. Since equipment is from different vendors, operators have to have multiple Service Level Agreements (SLAs)

3. Network latency may increase

4. Reliability and availability may be a challenge

5. Staff has to acquire multiple skill sets

6. Security Concerns

Open RAN offers a golden opportunity for software developers to become a global hub for offering RAN solutions. This technology leads to a great disruption to the traditional ecosystem and accelerates the adoption of more innovative technologies. The disaggregation of RAN has also added further advantages by enabling better network slicing and edge compute capabilities.

References:

https://www.telecomtv.com/content/open-ran/how-vran-can-be-a-game-changer-for-5g-40019/

https://techblog.comsoc.org/?q=Open%20RAN#gsc.tab=0&gsc.q=Open%20RAN&gsc.page=1

Vodafone Idea to test 5G-based smart city solutions with Larsen & Toubro in Pune, India

India’s struggling telco Vodafone Idea is partnering with engineering and construction conglomerate Larsen & Toubro for a pilot project to test 5G-based smart city solutions, as part of its ongoing 5G trials on government-allocated spectrum.

In the pilot to be conducted in the city of Pune, the companies will collaborate to test and validate 5G use cases built on IoT and video AI technologies leveraging L&T’s Smart City platform, Fusion, to address the challenges of urbanization, safety and security, and offering smart solutions to the citizens.

Vi has deployed its 5G trial in a setup of end-to-end captive network of Cloud Core, new C1 – Vodafone Idea External generation Transport and Radio Access Network.

Abhijit Kishore, chief enterprise business officer at Vodafone Idea, said: “Telecommunications solutions are the backbone of building smart and sustainable cities. The advent of 5G technology opens whole new opportunities to address challenges of urban growth and provide end-to-end solutions to support sustainable creation of Smart Cities, in the future. Vodafone Idea is happy to partner with Larsen & Toubro to test 5G based Smart City solutions and utilize our mutual expertise to find solutions that can help shape cities of the future.”

“In this constantly-evolving world, we are seeing an exponential rise in demand for smarter and more intelligent solutions and L&T Smart World is committed towards leveraging the latest technological innovations in the IoT and Telecommunications areas to benefit society at large. We are excited to partner with Vodafone Idea to bring to the table our experience, of having successfully executed several smart solutions across Indian cities, to develop customized, IoT-driven 5G solutions for various industry and enterprise verticals”, said J. D. Patil, senior executive VP of Defense and smart technologies at L&T.

The partnership between Vodafone Idea and Larsen & Toubro will trial several 5G use cases that cover 5G services such as enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communications (uRLLC) and Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC). The firms said that the partnership will help to analyze the performance requirements of smart city applications and business models in 5G, design and implement 5G-based “smart and safe city” applications and use data analytics tools to visualize and analyze the trial results.

Vodafone Idea (Vi) has been allocated 26 GHz and 3.5 GHz spectrum in the mmWave band by India’s Department of Telecom (DoT), for their 5G network trials and use cases.  In its initial test results Vi has achieved peak speed in excess of 3.7 Gbps with very low latency on the mmWave spectrum band.  These speeds were achieved with state-of-the-art equipment in 5G Non-Standalone (NSA) network using 5G NR compliant radios. The Indian telco  has also achieved peak download speeds of up to 1.5 Gbps in a 3.5 GHz-band 5G trial network with its original equipment manufacturer (OEM) partners.

The high speed and low latency characteristics of 5G network may enable improved surveillance and video streaming/broadcast to permit the evolution of 5G smart cities and smart factories. Smart City and Industry 4.0 will hopefully accelerate with 5G deployment and usher in new era of Digital India.

As forVi’s two telco competitors:

  • Bharti Airtel has recently demonstrated India’s first 5G rural trial using network equipment from Ericsson. It has also showcased 5G cloud gaming.
  • India’s wireless network market leader Reliance Jio has trialed 5G VoNR, AI-multimedia chatbot, and immersive high-definition (HD) virtual reality.

The DoT had approved applications of Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone in May, and MTNL later for 5G trials. The permission has been granted for six-month trials with telecom gear makers Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung and C-DOT.

References:

https://www.vodafoneidea.com/media/press-releases

Vodafone Idea inks partnership to test 5G-based smart city solutions

https://telecom.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/vodafone-idea-partners-larsen-toubro-to-test-smart-city-solutions-using-5g-trial-spectrum/87103185

https://www.businesstoday.in/industry/telecom/story/vodafone-idea-says-achieved-peak-5g-speed-of-over-37-gbps-in-pune-trials-307076-2021-09-19

 

Bharti Airtel, Ericsson conduct India’s first rural 5G trial; Ericsson – India Q & A

On October 5th Bharti Airtel said it has conducted India’s first rural 5G trial with Swedish telecoms equipment maker Ericsson. The demonstration took place in Bhaipur Bramanan village on the outskirts of Delhi/NCR using 5G trial spectrum allocated by India’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT).

“The trial showcases the massive potential offered by 5G towards bridging the digital divide by enabling access to high speed broadband through solutions such as enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) and Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) services,” the companies said in a joint statement.

The trial demonstrated over 200Mbps throughput on 3GPP-compliant 5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) device located more than 10km from the site.

The trial also showcased that a commercially available 3GPP-based 5G smartphone could connect to the test network and record over 100Mbps speeds at a distance of more than 10km from the site.

The 5G site was powered by Ericsson’s 3GPP-compliant 5G radio. The trial was carried out by utilizing the allocated mid-band trial spectrum in 3500MHz band and existing FDD spectrum band.

“Having demonstrated India’s first 5G network and also the first 5G cloud gaming experience, Airtel is proud to have also conducted the nation’s first 5G trial in a rural geography. 5G will be a transformational technology when it comes to delivering broadband coverage to the last mile through use cases like FWA and contribute to a more inclusive digital economy,” said Randeep Singh Sekhon, Airtel CTO.

“The technology milestone of extended coverage achieved by Ericsson and Airtel as part of the ongoing 5G trial in India is even more significant since it demonstrates how 5G can ‘connect the unconnected’ in India, enable faster 5G rollout and truly help India realize its ‘Digital India’ vision,” added Nunzio Mirtillo, Head of Ericsson South east Asia, Oceania and India.

According to an Ericsson study, on average, a 10% increase in the Mobile Broadband adoption ratio causes a 0.8% increase in GDP.

Airtel has previously demonstrated cloud gaming in a 5G environment, as part of its 5G trials in Gurgaon’s Manesar. It had used the mid-band spectrum provided by the DoT for this purpose.  The Sunil Mittal-led telco has also been rallying to ensure that any new 5G handset sold in India must support all existing bands in India for 5G, including the mmWave bands.

Earlier this year, Airtel successfully demonstrated 5G services over a live 4G-LTE network in Hyderabad, marking an industry first. It is also conducting 5G trials in multiple cities across India and validating technologies and use cases through the trial spectrum allotted by the DoT . Airtel has partnered with Ericsson and Nokia for these trials.

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Q and A with Nunzio Mirtillo, head of Ericsson (Southeast Asia, Ocea­nia and India):

How has been the market performing for Ericsson this year?

We have been doing well in India and increasing our market share constantly. Over the past three/four years, we have been increasing our market share in India and we have kept our market share when the merger with Vodafone and Idea happened. When it comes to Bharti, we have increased market share substantially in the last few years, both on core and on radio, showing two things – one, our willingness to stay and increase our presence in India, and two, that we are competitive. Because you can be willing to do something but then you also need to be competitive in terms of technology, in terms of TCO and we have been showing that. And on top of that we have been delivering quite a good quality of service to our customers because that is ultimately what counts the most.

Have your telco partners been spending on network expansion aggressively?

We know the situation of Vodafone Idea, and I believe they have a great chance to do well in India and I think they will. And now with the latest from the government, I hope they will have a nice restart. When it comes to Jio we are not a relevant partner with Jio when it comes to the radio business, although we work with Jio. I think they have been also doing their job and their investment in a nice way. But Bharti has accelerated quite a lot in the last few years, and you can see the result in their market evaluation and also in terms of subscriber acquisition, ARPU increase, and we have been part of that journey, partnering with them as well. Showing that India is a market where if you do invest, you provide network quality and you have the right strategy and the right focus, the market is there. And if you do well, you will get the payback for that.

How do you see this whole 5G story panning out in the Indian market?

The sooner the better for the country actually. As everyone says in Q1, the spectrum will be made available from the government to the operators. So, I really hope so. India has been a bit sleepy for a while but then in the last three, four years it really did catch up quite a lot on 4G. So now the country should not lose momentum.

Secondly, the government should make available at least between 80 to 100 megahertz of 3.5GHz or the mid-band to the existing operators and also make sure that they auction millimeter wave spectrum which is a 400 megahertz which will be very much needed going forward to match the tremendous demand of mobile broadband that will be there in the future. And also, you also need to take care of the transport network, so we also need enough spectrum on the E band for connecting the 5G networks.

That’s what we believe and that’s the basic and India cannot, in my view, go below basic because there’s the Digital Highway for the country, it’s not only kind of business as such. It’s really a vital infrastructure for the future of India. And they also need to make sure that they deliver that spectrum at a reasonable price because otherwise they will impact from the start the ones that are supposed to invest.

I think they will be reasonable, because I have seen a lot of good things in India in the last few years with the tremendous push shown on Digital India, Make in India, and it’s all good programs.

References:

https://telecom.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/airtel-ericsson-conduct-indias-first-rural-5g-trial/86776922

https://telecom.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/ettelecom-interviews-ericssons-nunzio-mirtillo-on-telecom-relief-package-vodafone-idea-future-5g-openran-and-satcom/86910717

Jio, Airtel, and Vodafone Idea Couldn’t Deliver True 4G Speeds in India

While 5G is coming (some day soon?) to India, and there are 4G networks present in almost all of the country, there is one thing that can’t be ignored. The private telecom operators who have built a strong business around providing 4G coverage throughout the country have failed to deliver ‘true 4G’ to Indians. Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) is still a 2G/3G player, so that state-run telco is not included in this article.

According to the Speed test Global Index’ report from Ookla [1.], India is currently at the 126th position in terms of providing the fastest mobile data speeds to users.  Pakistan is ahead of India at 120th position.

Note 1. Here are the top 10 countries with the fastest mobile Internet speed in Mbps as of end of July 2021:

1 United Arab Emirates 195.52
2 South Korea 192.16
3 +3 Norway 173.54
4 -1 Qatar 169.17
5 -1 China 163.45
6 +1 Saudi Arabia 149.95
7 +1 Kuwait 141.46
8 -3 Cyprus 136.18
9 Australia 126.97
10 Bulgaria 126.21
11 +1 Switzerland 115.83
12 -1 Luxembourg 110.67
13 +3 Denmark 103.35
14 -1 Netherlands 100.48
15 +2 Oman 97.81
16 -1 Sweden 97.06
17 -3 United States 96.31
18 Singapore 91.75
19 Canada 87.65
20 +4 Finland 83.01

Mobile download speed jumped 59.5% over the last year globally to 55.07 Mbps

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The average mobile Internet speed delivered to users in India was 17.96 Mbps. In comparison, the number one country on the list, United Arab Emirates (UAE), offers users 195.52 Mbps speeds while the U.S. average is 96.31 Mbps. There is a humongous difference between UAE and India.

So why does a telecom operator like Jio, which has so much profits in the books, can’t provide very high-speed networks to the users? This question also applies to companies like Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel.

The problem is getting higher mobile internet speeds would have costed the end-consumer a lot more money. Today, India offers mobile data at one of the cheapest/most affordable rates globally. From paying more than Rs 200 for each G Byte of mobile data in 2016, now Indians pay less than Rs 10 for the same amount.

This has allowed even the low-income Indian  people to latch on to the same network services as the high-income ones. Since Jio arrived with ultra low prices, India’s mobile telcos could either reduce the price of data, or they could go out of business.

Because of affordable plans and services, which benefitted a lot to the customers, the overall profit margins and the average revenue per user (ARPU) started to drop. This resulted in the telcos being limited in their capacity to make investments in the networks to enhance performance.

In simple words, if the telcos don’t charge you more, they don’t earn more. If they don’t earn more, they can’t invest in their networks and really can’t provide you with the 4G experience customers in countries like the UAE do.

But there’s one more thing to factor in here. It is not just how the Indian market is that is responsible for this. But the telcos have also been fighting to get the larger subscriber market share. Companies like Jio can easily hike tariffs and support Vi and Airtel in doing the same. But Jio won’t go for the tariff hike to increase ARPU because it wants a larger subscriber market share. The other companies are also handicapped because of the same. However, it is not like Vi and Airtel don’t want a better subscriber market share; it’s just that the ball is in Jio’s court at the moment.

Further, the government had also put so much stress on the sector. There were so many forms of statuary dues, regulatory norms that involved so much money going out of the operators’ pockets. However, the recent relief package should be able to help with that.

India’s mobile operators are limited to provide a premium service to each of their customers because of their limited return on investments (ROI).

Note that providing better network services also includes purchasing more airwaves from the government, which involves thousands of crores. There are also other investments such as network towers, fiber conversion costs, and much more than a normal mobile consumer is aware of.

References:

https://telecomtalk.info/jio-airtel-vi-couldnt-deliver-true-4g/471560/

https://www.speedtest.net/global-index

STL Launches Accellus End-To-End Fiber Broadband And 5G Wireless Solution; India’s PLI scheme explained

India based telecom equipment company STL (Sterlite Technologies Limited) has launched Accellus, its flagship solution for 5G-ready, open and programmable networks. This new product line raises the position of STL as a provider of disruptive solutions for Access and Edge networks. For the past 5 years, STL has been investing in research and development to expand its capabilities in converged networks based on fiber optic broadband and Open RAN.

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India’s PLI Scheme

The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), which represents service providers and network equipment vendors, said that the production-linked incentive (PLI) scheme will boost local manufacturing, exports and also create employment opportunities.  STL plans to take advantage of that initiative. Nokia (through its India subsidiary) said the guidelines were an encouraging initiative by the government towards making India a global manufacturing hub. “Nokia is committed to this vision with our Chennai factory that manufactures telecom equipment from 2G to 5G-making for India and the world.”

“India is already the second largest telecom market globally and this will go a long way in making the country a global hub for telecom innovation,” said SP Kochhar, director general, COAI.

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STL’s Accellus is built on this industry-leading converged optical-radio architecture. The company expects the global adoption of this decision to accelerate at a rate of 250% on an annual basis, stimulating better TCO for customers and gross margin for shareholders. Accellus will allow four main benefits for network builders – scalable and flexible operations, faster time to market, lower TCO and greener networks.

Accellus will lead the industry’s transition from tightly integrated, proprietary products to neutral and programmable converged wireless and optical networking solutions. It offers wireless and fiber-based solutions:

1. 5G multiband radios: Exhaustive portfolio of RAN radios with single and multiband macro radios. Co-developed in partnership with Facebook Connectivity to build total availability for Open RAN-based radios

2. Internal small cells: O-RAN compliant, highly efficient internal 5G small cell solution, with level 1 edge treatment

3. Wi-Fi 6 access solutions: Outdoor Wi-Fi 6 solutions providing carrier-class public connectivity in dense environments

4. Intelligent RAN Controller (RIC): An Open RAN 5G operating system that allows the Open RAN ecosystem to use third-party applications to improve performance and save costs

5. Programmable FTTx (pFTTx): A complete solution that offers programmability and software-defined networks in large-scale FTTH, business and cellular sites (FTTx) networks

Commenting on the launch of Accellus, Philip Leidler, Partner and Consulting Director, STL Partners, said: “One of the goals of the O-RAN alliance was to expand the RAN ecosystem and encourage innovation from a wider base of technology companies worldwide. the message is the last indication that this goal has been achieved. “

Commenting on the launch of Accellus, Chris Rice, CEO of Access Solutions at STL, said: “Disaggregated 5G and FTTx networks based on open standards are becoming more common for both greenfield and brownfield deployments. These networks will require unprecedented scalability and flexibility, possible through an open and programmable architecture. STL’s Accellus will unlock business opportunities for our customers and provide a immersive digital experience worldwide.”

Optical fiber has evolved in its maturity and in its form factors to drive the infrastructure medium for the “wireline” side of the network. It continues to be the preferred medium for high-speed network delivery, Rice said.

“What network infrastructure is needed for 5G to become a reality and deliver expected Performance?” 

Answer:  “Upgrade the network backhaul and core IP infrastructure for the expected growth in bandwidth that 5G Applications will enable. The necessity of wireline 5G upgrades sometimes does not get the attention it deserves; this includes IP equipment (e.g. cell site routers) and the necessary fiber upgrades to the cell sites.

Perform the network planning for the new cell site builds required to get the coverage and capacity required for ubiquitous 5G at the speeds users expect. For 5G to pay off for Telcos, there have to be new capabilities and services to sell that deserve higher price points from consumers and business users.

Ensure that operational automation is available to keep operating costs reasonable, especially as the number of cell sites grows. CAPEX is typically only 20 to 25% of the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for a RAN, meaning that operating costs are 3X to 4X what CAPEX is. The RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) is an example in ORAN / Open RAN that helps Telcos fulfil this need in an open way. It is essentially the operating system for Open RAN. It provides a platform for third-party applications to deliver these operational benefits and automation.”

How Is STL Helping Industry Stakeholders to Explain to Government Officials the Importance of Fiber for 5G or High-Speed Broadband?

Answer: “Network speed in the RAN air interface is essentially meaningless without the ability to ensure that the connected IP network can backhaul the required bandwidth. This fact necessitates additional fiber deployments to the existing cell sites (where it does not exist) and to new cells sites.”

In conclusion, Rice opined, “Our (STLs) newest business unit, the Access Solutions BU, focuses on fiber broadband and 5G wireless products. These products are based on open networking principles and give STL the opportunity to participate in the disruption that is occurring in the open networking markets, like ORAN and Open RAN initiatives. While Access Solutions BU is new, it has an R&D and innovation heritage of almost four years. During that time, a top talent team has been put in place, fundamental technology and innovation have been developed and matured, and now a well-defined product roadmap has been put in place as the BU launches many new products in its Accellus product line.”

References:

https://www.prnewswire.com/ae/news-releases/stl-launches-accellus—an-end-to-end-fiber-broadband-and-5g-wireless-solution-301382941.html

https://telecomtalk.info/5g-ecosystem-in-india-to-pli-scheme/468656/

https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/telecom/telecom-news/pli-scheme-for-telecom-gear-to-make-india-a-global-manufacturing-hub-industry/articleshow/83208259.cms

India’s DoT preparing for another mega spectrum sale

India’s telecom department has set the stage for another mega spectrum sale by sending a reference to the sector regulator, seeking fresh base prices for the gamut of airwave bands, including key frequencies like 700 MHz, 3.3-3.6 GHz and the coveted millimeter waves such as 26 GHz and 28 GHz that support 5G technology (but have not been agreed upon in revision 6 of ITU-R M.1036 Frequency Arrangements for Terrestrial IMT).

India’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has also sought fresh base prices for 4G airwave bands such as 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz and 2300 MHz, two people aware of the matter said. But with the time usually taken for the consultation process, sources say it may be tough to meet government’s auction timeline of January-February, 2022.

The reference comes at a time when the government has acknowledged that high spectrum pricing is a prime reason behind the acute financial stress in the debt-laden telecom industry, and is also open to price rationalization in public interest.

In its reference, the department has sought recommendations from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) on the terms of reference for the next auction and the quantum of airwaves proposed to be auctioned, one of the persons cited told ET.

“We have received a detailed reference from DoT about 2-3 days back, seeking our recommendations on spectrum matters and pricing…there are a number of spectrum bands involved, and the Authority is currently examining the reference and will respond to the government,” Trai secretary V Raghunandan told ET. He, though, declined to share details.

Sector analysts expect the potential annual cash flow relief stemming from the four-year moratorium allowed on statutory payouts to give Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio the financial headroom to participate aggressively in the next spectrum auction. They, though, don’t expect Vodafone Idea (Vi) to participate as strongly if it’s unable to close its much delayed Rs 25,000-crore fundraise.

Another official said that Trai will need to seek additional details from the DoT, before proceeding with its analysis and starting the consultation process.

After a DoT reference, Trai conducts a process which includes a four-week period for stakeholders to submit their views after a consultation paper is floated, followed by two weeks for counter comments. Then Trai holds open-house discussions before arriving at its recommendations. The whole process usually takes about four-five to months at least.

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On March 1, India concluded its first spectrum auction of 2021. India’s Department of Telecom (DoT), through a Notice Inviting Applications (NIA) issued in January 2021, had put up spectrum for auction in multiple bands, including 700, 800, 900, 1800, 2100, 2300 and 2500 MHz bands. These frequencies cut across 2G, 3G and 4G service bands and included both FDD (paired) and TDD (unpaired) bands.

The auction was a qualified success. It netted the Government $10.6 billion and was almost double initial estimates. However, barely 37% of the total spectrum put up for auction had takers, while the 700 MHz band saw no bids at all.

The main takeaway from this auction is that the focus of India’s telcos is currently on 4G, not 5G. With several licenses coming up for renewal, it was imperative that telcos bid on expiring spectrum to renew but also to consolidate with new holdings. The biggest bidders were Reliance Jio ($7.8 billion), Bharti Airtel ($2.55 billion), followed by VodafoneIDEA a distant third with bids worth $272 million.

There was heavier than expected bidding in the 800 MHz band as well as the 2300 MHz band. All of the three operators bidding have taken different approaches to this auction. The common theme for both Jio and Airtel’s auction strategies was to shore up existing spectrum, acquire new frequencies to consolidate holdings per circle and boost capacity, and lay the groundwork for an eventual 5G network launch.

For its part, Vodafone IDEA (VIL) has taken a very frugal, optimization strategy to spectrum. Their public position has been that they have abundant spectrum and therefore are not hard-pressed to bid aggressively. This is true, with VIL holding ample spectrum, but there is no doubt that they would have had very limited means due to a stressed balance sheet.

Reference:

https://telecom.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/dot-gearing-up-for-another-mega-spectrum-sale/86469701

https://www.fiercewireless.com/operators/india-s-recent-spectrum-auction-opening-opportunities-putcha

India lagging in 5G unless spectrum prices decrease & 5Gi standard debate is settled

Bloomberg says India risks lagging in the rollout of the 5G wireless networks unless the government makes airwaves cheaper in an upcoming spectrum auction, a local telecom industry body said, citing the financial stress in the sector.

“The reserve prices are fixed so high that almost 50-60% of the spectrum may go unsold,” S.P. Kochhar, director general of Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), said in an interview August 27th. “It is not viable because we are not passing on the extra price to the consumer as we continue to bleed. We have to reduce our cash outflow and one of the major things money goes into is auctions.”

Proceeds from the 5G airwaves auction, likely early next year, is an important source of revenue for the Indian Exchequer (UK term for Treasury Dept.) especially as the Narendra Modi-led government looks to spur India’s pandemic-hit economy. Too high a reserve price for spectrum risks putting off wireless network operators whose financial health has been battered by a brutal tariff war after the entry of billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd. in 2016. Most operators since have quit, gone bankrupt or merged.

Lowering the base price for auctioned spectrum and other government levies have been a longstanding industry demand. The local telecom industry is paying about 32% of its total revenue as levies and taxes and that’s “too high,” said Kochhar. “It’s the highest in the world.”

India’s government has set the reserve price for 5G airwaves at 4.92 billion rupees ($67.2 million) per megahertz of spectrum in 3,300 to 3,600 Mhz bands which are most suitable for the new technology. Kochhar expects the auction to happen in January or February 2022.

High reserve prices have hindered spectrum sales in some categories in the past. The 700 megahertz band, which is suitable for 5G technology, didn’t receive any bids in the March auction.

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Sidebar: TSDSI’s 5Gi standard (included in ITU-R M.2150 recommendation/IMT 2020.specs)

Another important aspect of 5G in India deployments has been the deliberation on the development of specific 5G India standards (5Gi or LMLC). While the Telecommunications Standards Development Society of India (TSDSI) has been keen on pushing telcos to undertake trials based on 5Gi, a homegrown standard with a Large Cell Low Mobility enhancement for wider coverage in rural areas, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) has argued for the implementation of the global 3GPP specification (5G NR in Release 15 & 16) for 5G in India. They remain convinced that 5Gi could lead to interoperability issues. This ongoing debate is further delaying the 5G launch in India.

Source: The Economic Times

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India remains a relative latecomer in the 5G space compared to some countries, including China and South Korea, which already have 5G networks in place.

If the government can “somehow have the right price point for spectrum,” it would boost the growth of 5G network traffic as well as the devices, Bharti Airtel Ltd. Chairman Sunil Mittal said in an investor call Monday. “We need to invest in fiber backhaul now.”

The market leader Jio and Bharti Airtel, India’s no. 2 operator, have been conducting 5G trials in preparation for a nationwide roll out once the airwaves are sold.

Debt-laden Vodafone Idea Ltd. — the only other private sector wireless operator left in India — has been posting losses for several quarters and is struggling to stay afloat. Bharti and Vodafone Idea also have to come up with billions of rupees in back dues to the government after India’s top court rejected their petitions seeking relief.

“At this point, the payouts in telecom are so excessive that even survival is becoming a problem,” said Kochhar.  That strongly implies there will be only two 5G network operators in India- Jio and Bharti!

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BSNL is aiming to upgrade the 4G network to 5G non-standalone (NSA) by 2022 (pending 5G spectrum to be purchased at the long delayed auction) and to 5G standalone (SA) by 2023.  What about that? Almost every country has already deployed 5G NSA while operators are slowly evolving to 5G SA using different software technologies in the absence of any standard or implementation spec.

Light Reading says BSNL is unlikely to meet to this timeline, with shortlisted 4G network vendors still conducting tests. It is likely to be another year before BSNL can roll out a 4G network, while private-sector companies are gearing up for a 5G launch in the coming year.

References:

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-08-30/telecom-lobby-sees-india-lagging-in-5g-unless-airwaves-cost-less

https://www.lightreading.com/4g3gwifi/bsnl-picks-c-dot-tcs-and-tejas-as-4g-vendors—report/d/d-id/771783?

The Reality of 5G in India

Jio and Airtel against 5Gi standard; 2 GHz of mid-band needed for India 5G demand

Indian telecom operators have informed the India Department of Telecommunications (DoT) that the so-called Indian component of the ITU 5G RAN recommendation M.2150 (Low Mobility Large Cell/LMLC or 5Gi), doesn’t have a device ecosystem and it should only be considered as optional and non-mandatory for the telecom industry.  They said that making the 5Gi standard mandatory would increase prices of smartphones.

Backgrounder:

TSDSI’s 5G Radio Interface Technology, referred to as LMLC or “5Gi” cleared the rigorous processes of  International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and has been approved by ITU-R WP 5D and then ITU-R SG5 as a part of Draft Recommendation M.[IMT-2020.SPECS] in its meeting held on 23rd November 2020.  That recommendation was approved by ITU-R as recommendation M.2150 early this year.

5Gi, the first  ever Mobile Radio Interface Technology contribution from India to become part of ITU-R’s  IMT recommendation, went through a rigorous evaluation process of the ITU-R working groups over the past 3 years before getting the approval.

This standard is a major breakthrough for bridging the rural-urban digital divide in 5G deployment due to enhanced coverage. It enables connecting majority of India’s villages through towers located at gram panchayats in a cost effective manner. It has found support from several countries as it addresses their regional needs from a 5G standpoint.

Indian telcos, vendors and chipmakers met the DoT Secretary last week for stakeholder consultation on the 5G ecosystem. The meeting was also attended by members from academia, ICEA, TSDSI, CDoT and chipmakers.

During the meeting, an Airtel representative told the secretary that 5Gi is not globally harmonized and will lead to costly devices and delays in rollout.

Reliance Jio representative also urged the department to avoid mandating any requirements for consumer devices for spectrum, features etc., as they are market driven. “No minimum technology specifications approach for 5G devices,” the company said as per the minutes of meetings accessed by ET.

COAI, which represents telcos and telecom equipment vendors, told the department that 5Gi doesn’t have a device ecosystem and efforts to be made as part of 3GPP [1.].

Note 1. That is a false assertion as TSDSI, which is a member of 3GPP, presented its 5Gi/LMLC to ITU WP 5D as a Radio Interface Technology (RIT) for IMT 2020. After numerous contributions and tests, it was accepted as an integral part of ITU-R recommendation M.2150.  LMLC was not contributed to 3GPP for inclusion in their 5G Releases 15 and 16.

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“There will be implications if there is a separate handset production line for India which then can increase prices. We have sought clarification. It is claimed that there will be minor tweaks in handsets,” COAI director general S P Kochhar told ET.

Bharti Airtel once again raised the device ecosystem related issue with the department and said that 5G devices are required to support in all licensed bands auctioned in India including 2100 MHz, 1800 MHz in both standalone and non-standalone 5G modes.

“Handsets must support NSA Carrier Aggregation and Dynamic Spectrum Sharing in FDD and TDD spectrum bands,” Airtel said, adding that devices should also be capable of transmitting “26 dBm” both in NSA and SA modes.

Telecom operators reiterated the need for affordable 5G handsets to drive the uptake of high-speed service upon commercial availability. The cheapest 5G device is currently available at Rs 15,000 but only supports N78 band or the mid-band.

During the meeting, the COAI said that 5G standards should support both consumers, industry, and the Indian government must play a facilitating role.

“We are most happy if the local 5G standard is globally harmonized.  Globalization will help in lowering the cost of devices and achieving scale. It will also make India an export hub for 5G handsets. Harmonization with 3GPP is crucial even as there is substantial progress for 5Gi with the ITU,” Kochhar said.

Responding to ET’s queries, Prof. Bhaskar Ramamurthi, Director IIT Madras, former Chair-TSDSI and Chief proponent of 5Gi said that 5G handsets require only minor firmware and software changes to become 5G+5Gi handsets, which will not lead to any increase in costs as confirmed by some handset solution providers and operators.

“Even earlier, “operator specific” changes have been implemented by the vendors – example – modems have region specific requirements such as bands, power levels and Dual SIM which involve hardware changes. Also, given the scale of the Indian market in terms of no. of connections and growth rate, the initial development cost of making these modifications, modest as it is, will get amortized very quickly,” Ramamurthi added.

“We should not see a situation where the industry is stuck. If 5Gi gets harmonized then it is a win-win situation. Otherwise the cost to the subscriber will be high,” Kochhar added.

The Jio representative also supported the technology neutral approach for 5G and suggested that India’s government must make efforts for global harmonization of 5Gi standards by making it part of 3GPP [2].

Note 2.  This assertion is also completely wrong. 3GPP is NOT a standards body.  All of their specs must be transposed by it’s member standards bodies (e.g. ETSI, ATIS, etc) or ITU-R to be considered as standards.  TSDSI took their 5Gi/LMLC directly to ITU-R WP-5D which accepted it as part of the first official 5G RAN standard-  ITU-R M.2150. Any harmonization of 5G standards must occur in ITU-R WP-5D and NOT 3GPP.

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Samsung, which is the sole 4G equipment provider for Jio and India’s second largest smartphone brand, also supported telcos’ demand for a harmonized 5Gi standard during the meeting.

Both Jio and Airtel reiterated their demand for lowering the reserve price for 5G spectrum.

“Current pricing of mid-band spectrum is unrealistic,” Jio said, supporting the need to seek the reserve price from TRAI for all 5G spectrum bands for auction with a clear request that the reserve price be kept reasonable in order to meet the 5G proliferation goals.

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) will seek a fresh base price from the telecom regulator for the 3300-3750 MHz as well as floor prices for other bands that can support 5G.

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Jio also urged the department to make available 2 GHz of mid-band spectrum to meet the demands of 2025-2030 timeframe. Airtel, on the other hand, asked the government to auction spectrum in mmWave band along with mid band and 600 MHz band and earmark them for 5G.

Jio has also asked the India DoT to identify and incorporate in NFAP [3] the entire C band 3.3-4.2 GHz, mmWave 24.25-29.5 Ghz, 37 GHz along with E and V bands.

Note 3. The NFAP is a central policy roadmap that defines future spectrum usage by all bodies in India, including DoT, the Department of Space and the defense ministry.

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Closing Comment:

It’s very disappointing that after all of TSDSI’s efforts to get 5Gi/LMLC included in the 1st official IMT 2020 RIT/SRIT standard (ITU-R M.2150) they couldn’t convince India telecom carriers or global equipment/chip vendors to endorse 5Gi/LMLC.

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References:

Reliance jio: Jio joins Airtel in fight against 5Gi standard; says 2 GHz in mid-band needed for India 5G demand, Telecom News, ET Telecom (indiatimes.com)

IMT 2020.SPECS approved by ITU-R but may not meet 5G performance requirements; no 5G frequencies (revision of M.1036); 5G non-radio aspects not included

India’s TSDSI candidate IMT 2020 RIT with Low Mobility Large Cell (LMLC) for rural coverage of 5G services

India’s Success in 5G Standards; IIT Hyderabad & WiSig Networks Initiatives

TSDSI’s 5G Radio Interface spec advances to final step of IMT-2020.SPECS standard

Reliance Jio claim: Complete 5G solution from scratch with 100% home grown technologies

Executive Summary: IMT-2020.SPECS defined, submission status, and 3GPP’s RIT submissions

https://blog.3g4g.co.uk/2021/06/tsdsis-low-mobility-large-cell-lmlc.html