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Bharti Airtel on Tuesday said it has partnered with US chipmaker Qualcomm Inc. for its 5G rollout in India. This comes shortly after Airtel’s demonstration of 5G services in Hyderabad over its live 4G network.

An OpenRAN (O-RAN) board member, Airtel said that it will leverage Qualcomm’s 5G RAN platforms – which runs on the cloud - to rollout virtualized and Open-RAN 5G networks in India.

“The flexible and scalable architecture of O-RAN will create new opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses to become viable players in the deployment of 5G networks,” Airtel said in a joint statement. No financial details were specified.

OpenRAN as a concept enables hardware and software to be dis-aggregated, unlike conventional radio gears, allowing technology products from different suppliers to co-exist with the various software providers. Indian telcos are eyeing OpenRAN as a viable method to cut network-related costs and bring in more customisations as they upgrade their networks to 5G technology.

The two companies will additionally collaborate to enable a new array of use cases such as 5G fixed wireless access (FWA) while seeking to allow a faster rollout of broadband services across the country in an affordable manner.

“…our networks are fully ready for 5G…With Airtel’s integrated service portfolio and Qualcomm Technologies’ 5G leadership, we will be well placed to usher India into the next era of hyper-fast and ultra-low latency digital connectivity,” said Randeep Sekhon, CTO, Bharti Airtel.

Qualcomm 5G Fixed Wireless Access Platform is said to support any combination of 5G spectrum bands and modes, from extended-range high power sub-6 to extended-range mmWave.

Airtel said through its network vendors and device partners, it will utilize the capabilities of these platforms for accelerating the development of 5G applications for industrial use cases and for driving innovations for its global operations.

“There is a compelling case to accelerate the roll-out of 5G networks in India, as it will help fast-track the country’s socio-economic growth and development. This collaboration is expected to play a critical role in Airtel’s plans to add 5G network coverage and capacity where and when it is needed the most,” said Rajen Vagadia, Vice President, Qualcomm India.

India though is yet to start 5G trials, and hasn’t so far auctioned airwaves which support the next gen technology.

"This is a very timely partnership to help operators such as Airtel build a cost-effective 5G network, leveraging Open RAN technologies and the sheer scale of Airtel's network gives Qualcomm tremendous scale to extend its technology leadership beyond smart devices into the network infrastructure domain," Neil Shah, Vice President and partner at Counterpoint Research told ET.

The tie up on cellular FWA could potentially bring high-speed broadband to tens of millions of homes to captialize on the pent-up home broadband demand due to the pandemic, he added. As per Counterpoint estimates, 5G FWA will power close to 20 million households by end of this decade and will accelerate faster from then on.

This is Qualcomm's second partnership with a telco in India. In October 2020, Jio Platforms, along with its wholly-owned subsidiary Radisys Corporation, in partnership with Qualcomm developed open and interoperable interface compliant architecture based 5G solutions with a virtualized RAN.

Jio, which is the parent of Indian telecom market leader Reliance Jio, and Qualcomm had then achieved over a 1 Gbps milestone on the Reliance Jio 5GNR solution, leveraging the Qualcomm 5G RAN Platforms. Last year, Qualcomm also invested $97 million in Jio Platforms.