Ericsson India in talks with Vodafone Idea for a 5G deal: India MD – Moneycontrol

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Swedish telecom gear maker Ericsson is in talks to secure fresh 4G and 5G equipment orders from Vodafone Idea, which will kick off a network expansion exercise in the next two to three months following a successful follow-on offer, a top executive said.

“Vodafone Idea is our partner and we are in discussions with them. We are hopeful that when they launch 5G, we will be supporting them in their rollouts,” Nitin Bansal, Managing Director of Ericsson India, told Moneycontrol in an interview.

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Ericsson is already a 5G equipment supplier to Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel. The two telecom operators also work with Nokia to source 5G equipment.

Vodafone Idea expects to start rolling out 5G six months from now and is in talks with vendors for 5G deals. However, the company’s topmost priority is to start adding 4G capacity and coverage in a couple of months, which it said would help it arrest the loss in subscribers. Vi, as the company is also known, is aiming to complete a large part of its coverage expansion in 12-15 months to compete with rivals Jio and Airtel.

Finland’s Nokia powers Vodafone Idea’s 4G in nine circles, while Ericsson does so in eight circles. Huawei’s equipment has been deployed in seven circles, while Vodafone has ZTE’s gear in five circles. All ZTE circles are shared with other vendors.

Bansal said that the company is bullish on the Indian market, which continues to see 5G network expansion, but expects the pace of rollouts to slow down this year following the rapid network deployment by Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel.

“..we are still very confident about the Indian market. It’s very important for us. Looking at the uptake in the number of subscribers and the data growth, it still looks positive,” said Bansal. “I don’t expect the same level of rollout being repeated that we saw last year, but it’s going to be positive in India.”Focus on network performance

Bansal said that the top two operators Reliance Jio and Airtel, which have been deploying networks across the country, have also started to focus on network performance to enhance customer experience and improve the quality of service.

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“A lot of work is happening on performance and introduction of new features and functionality. The requirements for 5G are more than what we have seen in the past. Now, it’s about video experience, gaming experience, fixed wireless access. So, you need functionalities in the network to deliver the best performance,” he said.

Bansal said it was a positive sign for the industry and Ericsson that all the three private telecom operators would be participating in the upcoming spectrum auction. “Once the auction finishes, we will get more into discussions with the operators. I look forward to the auctions.”

The Swedish telecom gear maker is also working with Indian telecom operators to develop new use cases in the country, which will help them monetise their 5G investments. Bansal said the market could see new 5G use cases becoming operational in the coming months.

“Currently, for 5G, the focus has been on mobile broadband and FWA (Fixed Wireless Access) and they are performing well. We will continue to give ideas. There is a focus from the government also on use cases and they have developed 5G testbeds for 5G use cases,” he said.

Bansal said Indian telecom operators would look at using spectrum in the mm-wave band for use cases beyond FWA. “As a concept, you introduce new spectrum when the existing one is starting to get congested. Indian telcos have the assets [mmwave spectrum]. And I’m sure it will be used when the existing deployments need more capability and capacity. We have seen deployments in the US for fixed wireless access mobile hotspot use,” he said.

Ericsson, Bansal said, is also looking at the private 5G network opportunity in India and is working with its telecom operator partners.

“…our equipment and the technology that we supply is working in private networks and commercial networks. We have capabilities for private networks,” he said.

Both Jio and Airtel want to tap the private 5G network opportunity. During the company’s recent Q4 conference call, Airtel’s managing director, Gopal Vittal, said the operator was powering eight private 5G networks in the country. A private 5G network is a dedicated cellular communication network that is independent of the public network. It serves the needs of enterprises.

Ericsson is also evaluating starting exports of 4G and 5G equipment from its local manufacturing facility.

“India rolled out 5G on a massive scale last year and we produced everything from the Indian manufacturing facility. We scaled up our capabilities to increase production to meet the requirements of the Indian market. We are evaluating the possibilities to export,” he said.

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