Reliance Jio Infocomm, India’s largest telecom operator, said it tied up with Korea-based Samsung Electronics to demonstrate 5G technology at India Mobile Congress (IMC) 2019, even as rivals Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea have sought DoT nod to demo with China-based Huawei.
The choice of vendors could turn out to be more crucial in coming days as Huawei 5G has been flagged as a potential security risk by American intelligence agencies and faces increasing scrutiny in many countries.
Australia, which lies close to China and has had political disagreements with the country, has banned vendors like Huawei and ZTE from taking part in the rollout of its 5G mobile networks.
In August, New Zealand too refused to give permission to one of its telecom operators to use Huawei equipment for its 5G expansion.
On the other hand, European countries — which are located far away from China and don’t have to worry about the possibility of going to war with it — have not banned Huawei from building their 5G networks.
India is seen as a crucial case, given that it shares a disputed land border and a history of war with the communist country, which also claims an entire Indian state as its territory. India and China are also seen as natural rivals due to the starkly different political philosophies they represent.
However, the existing telecom networks of Airtel and Vodafone Idea are largely managed by Huawei and ZTE, making it difficult for these companies to switch to a new supplier for their 5G rollout. Moreover, Huawei’s 5G solution is considered among the most advanced and cost-efficient among those of all global vendors at present.
Jio, on the other hand, did not over its network management to third parties. It also uses far less Chinese equipment in its network, and counts Samsung as one of its key suppliers. This makes it easier for the company to say no to Huawei.
“Samsung has been working in close cooperation with Jio to bring a digital transformation including the transition to 4G throughout India for over seven years,” said Paul Kyungwhoon Cheun, Executive Vice President and Head of Networks Business at Samsung Electronics at the occassion of the 5G demo.
“Samsung and Jio will continue to join forces in bringing next generation innovation across the country, harnessing the full potential of 5G in driving further growth of a ‘Digital India’,” he added.
In partnership with Samsung Networks, Jio has built the world’s largest green-field and all IP based 4G LTE network, which supports over 340 million LTE subscribers as of August 2019, Jio said in its statement.
The trial in New Delhi will feature solutions from Samsung Networks’ 5G product portfolio, including its 3.5GHz solution for 5G Massive MIMO Unit (MMU), its 28GHz Access Unit (AU) and CPE device, its virtualized radio access (vRAN) and core, and 5G mobile devices, the statement said.
It will show full HD video streaming on multiple Galaxy S10 5G smartphones at the same time, and 4K video streaming using multiple 5G tablets.
Samsung said it is one of the first companies to launch a 5G commercial network in Korea and the U.S. in the first half of 2019 using its end-to-end 5G solutions ranging from chipsets, radios, core network solutions and smartphones for both mid-band and mmWave.
India will start auction 5G-suitable spectrum in early-to-mid 2020. However, it remains to be seen which operator would be interested in buying the spectrum, given the extreme financial stress that they are under.
An accelerating global economic slowdown, which has hurt companies’ ability, is also likely to dampen enthusiasm at the auction.
On the other hand, fresh spectrum could help these companies save costs by obviating the need for putting in more and more 4G towers.
A single 5G tower could deliver as much data bandwidth as a dozen 4G towers, though it also requires several times as much spectrum to do so.
4G networks in metropolitan cities are already saturated and data rates have fallen to 2G levels in some locations during peak business hours, leading to customer dissatisfaction and churn.
Similarly, Chinese vendors or banks have also been known to extend loans to telecom companies to buy Chinese equipment, which could help convince cash-strapped telecom players to go for Huawei equipment.