Facebook to help India’s Sterlite Tech build 5G solution

Facebook, the social networking giant, will help Sterlite Technologies Ltd — one of the oldest private sector cable manufacturers in India — to create specialized 5G radio units.

Facebook will help Sterlite Technologies create two products — a 5G radio unit designed for dense deployments, and another, dual-tech 4G+5G radio unit. These are more complicated than the products that Sterlite has been able to come up with so far in the 5G space.

Both new products will conform to the Open RAN standard of 5G, and add to the Open RAN ecosystem.

The move is a part of Facebook’s attempts to promote the ecosystem around Open RAN and 5G in general.

Open RAN refers to attempts to create 5G networks around a set of open standards, much like wired and wifi networks are constructed right now.

In contrast, cellular networks have so far been built around closed standards which are built using patent-protected technologies and components.

However, with 5G, a section of the communication and IT industry is pushing for the adoption of completely open standards.

They argue that if the standards, specifications and technologies are open, it will enable any manufacturer — including Indian players like Sterlite Tech, HFCL and Reliance Jio — to come up with their own solutions, such as cellular base stations and software.

Companies like Facebook and Google stand to benefit from the adoption of open technologies in ways other than simply reaching more people through cheaper connectivity.

When cellular base stations run on an unlocked Linux operating system, it becomes possible to deploy software programs on that base station/tower that can do much more than direct traffic.

This opens up the possibility of edge-of-the-network computing, and companies like Facebook and Google may be able to shift some of their code to these towers. This is especially important in speed-sensitive applications like AI driving.

Sterlite, which started out as a supplier of locally made fiber optic cables, has been trying to move up the value chain by designing and offering more complicated network hardware such as routers.

Recently, the company came up with 5G solutions, a factor that may have led Facebook to make Sterlite a part of its global program.

Among Sterlite’s existing 5G offerings are Garuda indoor small cells, 5G external radios and Wi-Fi6
carrier-grade access solutions. “These offerings are being tested with top tier telcos in the U.S., UK and APAC,” the Indian company said.

The new tie-up is under Facebook’s Evenstar program — an effort by Facebook and global industry partners to
accelerate the adoption of Open RAN technology.

“These 3GPP and O-RAN compliant radio products will be developed over the next year and will enable telecom operators around the world to scale up commercial deployments of open networking infrastructure and prepare their networks for Open RAN 5G,” the Indian company said.

Facebook said the tie-ups are meant to shift the telecom industry towards “open, disaggregated and more vendor agnostic 5G networks”.

Chris Rice, CEO Access Solutions Business, Sterlite Technologies Ltd, said the shift to an open architecture will drive down equipment prices.

“By enabling an open networking infrastructure through efforts like this one, we are enabling global telecom service providers to take the power of 5G technology to billions of people worldwide at lower cost points.”

HFCL, a key competitor of Sterlite Tech in India, too recently announced it was setting up a new business unit to focus on developing and marketing 5G solutions.