One-third of Airtel users on VoLTE network – Nokia

Global telecom equipment provider Nokia today said its VoLTE service on Bharti Airtel’s Indian mobile network now supports 110 million users, or about 32% of the company’s total subscriber base.

With this, said the Finland-based telecom gear maker, Bharti Airtel’s network has become its Nokia’s biggest VoLTE deployment anywhere in the world.

It also makes it the second biggest VoLTE service in India, behind Reliance Jio’s VoLTE network with nearly 400 mln subscribers.

The announcement comes as both Airtel and Vodafone Idea face pressure to reduce their dependence on their primary network partners — China-based Huawei and ZTE — due to rising tensions between India and China.

Nokia and Ericsson were, at one time, the main equipment suppliers for all the mobile service providers in India including Bharti Airtel, but over the past 10-12 years, they lost the market to the Chinese players who offered lower prices.

Besides equipment such as switches, base stations other electronics, the Chinese vendors also offer ‘network management services’, under which they operate and manage the networks on behalf of the telecom operator.

For launching its VoLTE service, however, Bharti Airtel seems to have chosen Nokia.

Nokia, on its part, deployed an equipment-agnostic solution that works more or less independently of the underlying telecom technology and equipment used by Airtel to run its mobile and core networks.

Via this technology, voice calls made on Airtel’s 4G networks are not handled by the regular switches and circuits dedicated to voice traffic in Airtel’s network, but by a totally independent network set up by Nokia that works more like a parallel Internet-like network within Airtel’s system.

Nokia calls it ‘cloud-based VoLTE’ to distinguish it from VoLTE networks that are tied to the operators’ internal equipment.

“The cloud-based VoLTE deployment allows Airtel to provide its mobile customers faster and more reliable, cost-efficient call connectivity,” Nokia said.

“The solution, which has been deployed to cover all 22 telecom service areas in India, uses Commercial Off-the-Shelf IT hardware with cloud-based Virtual Network Functions (VNFs), which consumes much less power and space compared to the traditional 2G/3G Circuit Switched legacy core.”

It pointed out that the deployment of VoLTE will allow Airtel to reduce capacity in its 3G network right now, and potentially its 2G network in the future. The decommissioning of legacy networks like 2G and 3G can also help an operator like Bharti Airtel cut its network operating costs by 50%.

“Nokia’s VoLTE solution enables Airtel to free up spectrum by ramping down its 3G network, allowing the operator to utilize the freed up spectrum to deploy 4G/LTE services for better speed and capacity.”

Since the VoLTE network is independent of the underlying delivery technology, it can be carried over to Airtel’s 5G network practically as it is, when the company introduces the new technology some time towards the end of 2021.

Unlike traditional hardware-based voice network, a cloud-based network can also use sophisticated algorithms to re-route traffic and re-allocate capacities without human intervention.

“Nokia’s multi-cloud management solutions with analytical capabilities will also simplify operations for Airtel and allow the operator to design a network architecture that suits its needs and deliver new capabilities across mobility, enterprise, and telemedia business lines for its customers,” the vendor said.