Sunil Bharti Mittal, the founder of Bharti Enterprises. Photo: AFP

The Covid-19 pandemic in India may have put the brakes on the rollout of fifth-generation or 5G wireless technology, but telecom majors are now keen to develop their own indigenous technology for the world’s second-largest telecom market.

The latest to do so is Bharti Airtel, which on Monday announced a strategic partnership with India’s largest information technology firm Tata Consultancy Services for implementing 5G broadband network solutions in India. Under the partnership terms, Bharti Airtel will pilot this indigenous solution during its 5G rollout next year.

Tata Group has developed an O-RAN (Open Radio Access Network) based Radio and NSA/SA Core, and integrated a totally indigenous telecom stack. This will be available for commercial development next January. Both the companies are members of the O-RAN alliance, which aims to re-shape the Radio Access Network industry toward more intelligent, open, virtualized and fully interoperable mobile networks.

Once this 5G solution is commercially proven in Bharti Airtel’s network, it will be promoted for exports. Bharti Airtel CEO and MD Gopal Vittal said, “We are delighted to join forces with the Tata Group to make India a global hub for 5G and allied technologies. With its world-class technology ecosystem and talent pool, India is well-positioned to build groundbreaking solutions and applications for the world. This will also provide a massive boost to India becoming an innovation and manufacturing destination.”

Tata Consultancy Services COO and Executive Director N Ganapathy Subramaniam said, “As a Group, we are excited about the opportunity presented by 5G and adjacent possibilities. We are committed to building a world-class networking equipment and solutions business to address these opportunities in the networking space. We are pleased to have Airtel as our customer in this initiative.”

Earlier, Reliance Jio claimed that it has developed a 5G stack and along with Qualcomm it had successfully tested its 5G solutions in India. In its annual report, the Mukesh Ambani promoted company said it has developed an open and interoperable interface-compliant architecture-based 5G solution with a virtualized RAN (vRAN), which will help in the rollout of indigenous 5G network infrastructure and services in India.

The Indian government intends to roll out the 5G services by the end of this calendar year or in early 2022, but there is no clarity regarding when the spectrum auction will be held. Experts fear that the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic may force the government to delay its countrywide rollout.

Meanwhile, Bharti Airtel had in January to run its 5G services on a live network in Hyderabad and claimed it was fully ready for a commercial launch. Reliance Jio also claimed it has completed the testing of indigenously developed Jio 5G Radio and Core Network Solution for a rollout in the near future.