HFCL to become 5G supplier, sets up dedicated unit

Telecom equipment and services provider HFCL Ltd said it plans to offer 5G equipment and turnkey services, marking a move up from its roots as a telecom contractor.

The company, which has in recent years successfully diversified into manufacturing — particularly of fiber optic cables and terminal devices — said its new 5G network services division will start operating commercially sometime towards the end of 2021 or in January next year.

Separately, it has recently inaugurated a new R&D center in Bangalore, dedicated solely for the development of 5G and Wifi products. It will focus on the new standard of Wifi 6 — which can support data speeds of up to 1000 Mbps on client devices, and is being supported by US chip giant Qualcomm in its endeavor.

5G has incredible potential in India, a country that depends overwhelmingly on wireless technologies to meet the demand for high-speed internet.

Out of an estimated 250 mln households in the country, only around 3-5 mln have wired broadband connectivity.

As such, the country is expected to the biggest beneficiary of 5G technology in the world, as households who could not get broadband connections so far are enabled to do so with the power of this new, high-capacity wireless technology.

HFCL, which is currently the primary contractor for building the fiber network for Reliance Jio’s 4G and fiber-to-the-home services — intends to market its 5G products and services both in India and abroad.

Even though players like Reliance Jio have said they plan to start 5G services this year, HFCL founder and chairman Mahendra Nahata said he expects 5G spectrum auction to take place only early next year.

Jio is widely expected to lead the 5G roll-out in India, given its relatively cash-rich balance sheet, with Bharti Airtel playing catch-up and Vodafone Idea struggling to keep up.


HFCL will come out with traditional solutions — such as operator boxes for creating 5G wireless cells — as well as discrete components and parts that can be used by the operators to create their own 5G networks from scratch.

In addition, the company will also offer a pure services-oriented offering in the form of 5G system integration.

Currently, all such solutions are offered only by traditional, large telecom vendors such as Ericsson, Nokia and Huawei due to the proprietary nature of the technology involved.

However, 5G networks are expected to be based on open technology, like traditional computer networks, and are likely to be able to be built using off-the-shelf hardware and software.

This has opened up a huge opportunity for the likes of HFCL, Tech Mahindra, Infosys, HCL Tech and TCS.

“We’ve started the development of 5G radio access networks, both for macro cells and small cells, which will be required in very large numbers for 5G networks,” Nahata said.

“We are also in the process of starting the development of transport network equipment, such as routers and switches, which are also required in 5G networks in large quantities.”

HFCL, he said, is also setting up a services-focused division, called a systems integration division, targeting the 5G market.

With 5G, “telecom is going towards OPEN RAN,” he said. “Earlier it used to be the same supplier who was giving core and the access network.

“Now, it has been disaggregated – radio access network from one supplier, core from another supplier, transmission could be from a third supplier.

“But If you have multiple suppliers in a network, you need a system integrator to integrate the different components and make it work as a single network. That capability we are developing, because, we believe that in the open RAN environment of 5G, very large amounts of services will be required in system integration.”

He said the company is already in touch with a number of multinational companies as well who may want such system integration services.

“We will be in talks with operators also to offer these SI services in India and abroad. I have very high expectations from this division which will start operations by the Q3 or the beginning of Q4 of this year,” Nahata added.

On the equipment or hardware side, the company is ramping up the production of fiber optic cables, and is in the middle of an ambitious expansion of its Hyderabad optic fiber plant.

The plant, which is currently producing the more vanilla type of fiber optic cables used for fiber-to-the-home business and so on, will be able to make more specialized types of cables such as microducts, armoured cables, ADL and so on, Nahata said.

The ongoing expansions will increase the company’s capacity for producing optical fiber by 25%, optical fiber cable by 22% and FTTH cable by 20%, he said. Most of the specialized products will target the export markets, he added.