Airtel to tap Qualcomm chips for O-RAN rollout

Qualcomm’s rooftop 5G device design

In a further commitment to rolling out Open RAN technologies, telecom operator Bharti Airtel announced a tie-up with hardware and chipset provider Qualcomm Inc.

It said Qualcomm will provide technology to support the roll-out of 5G using the open technology.

Qualcomm is a maker of semiconductors or chips that are used by other equipment makers, typically to build terminal devices such as smartphones and laptops.

The company has traditionally not been that focused on the network (or the RAN) side of the business, which is dominated by the likes of Huawei, Ericsson, Nokia and so on, who are free to source their semiconductors from any vendor.

However, with 5G, Qualcomm seems to be eyeing an opportunity on the network side as well, and has three sets of solutions in the 5G segment — fixed wireless access, 5G RAN and its traditional smartphone solution.

Fixed wireless solutions, as the name indicates, are meant for creating affordable and sturdy rooftop wireless modems that can be used to deliver 5G broadband to homes and offices.

On the network side, Qualcomm said its RAN solutions can enable virtualized, flexible and interoperable 5G infrastructure, which suggests that it is offering a higher degree of interoperability than traditional vendors do.

Such flexibility will come in handy in an Open RAN-based approach, where the telecom operator essentially builds its network using off-the-shelf components such as ARM compute boards and commercially available antennas.

While the idea of creating 5G networks from scratch can appeal to telecom companies looking to avoid locking themselves to one vendor or the other, they still need to procure the chips and chipsets from one of a handful of vendors, and Qualcomm seems eager to step up.

“The portfolio of Qualcomm 5G RAN platforms aim to deliver cutting-edge technology for virtualized, flexible and interoperable SG infrastructure. Through Airtel’s network vendors and device partners, Airtel will utilize the capabilities of these platforms for accelerating the development of 5G applications,” the Indian company said.

At the same time, Airtel said it was committed to an open, multi-vendor ecosystem on 5G.

“Airtel, as a board member of the 0-RAN Alliance, is committed to driving the success of 0-RAN and is working with Qualcomm Technologies to explore and implement the O-RAN approach for 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,” it pointed out.

In many ways, the alliance is like a big PC brand — which used to depend on contract manufacturers to build all its PCs — deciding to build its own PCs using a broader set of suppliers to reduce its dependence on traditional vendor and cut costs, and for this purpose, enlisting the support of Intel or AMD.

On its part, Qualcomm said it expects to play “a critical role in Airtel’s plans to add 5G network coverage and capacity where and when it is needed the most”.

The US company also has a similar partnership with Airtel’s rival Jio.


The alliance also indicates that Airtel will try to leverage 5G to go up against Reliance Jio’s fiber network in the home broadband market.

In it’s statement today, Airtel said Qualcomm’s technology can help deliver broadband connectivity at “gigabit speeds” to homes and businesses in a “cost effective and expeditious manner”.

It also pointed out that last mile connectivity challenges are becoming increasingly important as operators try to connect millions of homes using fiber.

“For customers, the ultra-fast and low latency of 5G will unlock a digital world of limitless possibilities – gigabit size file downloads in seconds and 4K video streaming on the go across smartphones and computing devices, lmmersive Technologies such as Virtual Reality and SMART Homes with connected things.”