Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel shun Chinese companies for 5G trials

Topics Reliance Jio | 5G

The field trial runs for which spectrum is granted by the DoT can be used for a period of one to two years
India’s leading telecom operators Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel have decided to partner non-Chinese equipment manufacturers for their 5G trials, at least for now. 

While Jio has tied up with Samsung, Airtel has finalised agreements with European telecom majors Ericsson and Nokia, sources in the know said. The two companies have sought the Department of Telecommunications’ (DoT’s) permission for the trial run.

The move comes against the backdrop of the US and some of its allies banning the purchase of Chinese telecom gear over security concerns and pressuring other countries to follow suit. 

Sources said Vodafone Idea had partnered Ericsson, Nokia, and Huawei, a Chinese telecom giant. Also, China’s ZTE is believed to be in advanced talks with state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL). Huawei, Jio, and Airtel declined to comment on the issue. Vodafone Idea said: “We confirm our interest in initiating these trials and collaborating with best-in-class technology partners for the same.”  

While Airtel has used all the top four manufacturers, including Huawei and ZTE, for its 3G and 4G networks, Jio has stuck to Samsung for its 4G play. However, as there is no firm deadline for seeking permission for trial runs, some telcos are waiting for more clarity from the government on including the Chinese as partner before they take a final call.  

Ravi Shankar Prasad, after taking over the reins of the communications ministry in June, had promised that 5G trial runs would kick off in 100 days. He had also said a decision would be taken later on the participation of Chinese companies such as Huawei as it was not a technology issue, but there were security concerns.

A source involved in the process said: “While the DoT has had no issue on allowing Chinese players for 5G trial runs, security agencies and other ministries related to security of the country have issues.”  

A senior executive of a Chinese telecom equipment maker pointed out that they were getting mixed signals and had not heard from the government on whether they were in or out. Those involved in the whole issue indicated that a final decision on the contentious matter would most probably be taken only after Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is slated to visit India in October, meets Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Cellular Operators Association of India, which represents telcos in the country, has been vocal on the need to allow Chinese players for the trial runs in order to increase competition in the market, which they say will otherwise be limited to only a few players.

The field trial runs for which spectrum is granted by the DoT can be used for a period of one to two years depending on various tests in indoor and outdoor situations. Telcos say they are important not only to test speeds but also to demonstrate use cases, which are key for commercial viability of 5G. 

“5G trials will provide us with spectrum as well as time to demonstrate whether various use cases, for instance remote robotic surgery, autonomous cars or security functions, work properly in real situations,” said a top executive of a leading telco.

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