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Telcos, vendors say non-compatible 5Gi to drag India’s next generation network rollout, Telecom News, ET Telecom


India is, however, yet to come up with the 5G spectrum sale strategy and field trials.
India is, however, yet to come up with the 5G spectrum sale strategy and field trials.

NEW DELHI: Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea as well as multinational vendors such as Nokia, Ericsson, Huawei, Samsung and NEC want India’s fifth-generation or 5G standards touted as 5Gi should be compatibile to globally-adopted protocols, and adopted optionally since making it mandatory would only drag country’s next-generation technology roadmap.

“Issues relating to interoperability of the proposed (5Gi) specification with the global 3GPP specification still remain. Performance gain of the proposed specification compared to 3GPP specifications have not been established yet,” SP Kochhar, director-general of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) told ETTelecom, adding that local standards should be discretionary.

Delhi-based telco group represents incumbent operators and technology vendors besides iPhone-maker Apple Inc.

“Considering the quantum of challenges, 5Gi-based deployments will result in error-prone, costly and delayed 5G in India,” a senior industry executive who did not wish to be named said.

Billionaire Mukesh Ambani-controlled Reliance Jio although supports local standards but believes that such should be adaptive to globally-recognised standards while Sunil Mittal-driven Bharti Airtel recently said that setting up of India-specific 5G standards would lead to an “existential threat” that could lock the country out of the global ecosystem.

India is, however, yet to come up with the 5G spectrum sale strategy and field trials.

In November 2020, 3GPP, or the third generation partnership project, a global telecom standards body approved India’s Mobile Radio Interface Technology (RIT) called 5Gi put forth by the Telecommunications Standards Development Society, India.

“India’s standards body went ahead with the (local radio interface) study setting aside the apprehensions and shortcomings raised by the industry,” another person aware of the developments said, adding that the 5Gi was primarily meant to enhance rural coverage but no further research was conducted to make it compatible with 3GPP standards even in case urban networks adhere to global standards and protocols.

“This (5Gi) will be a game-changer for the telecom service providers,” Delhi-based TSDSI in a statement said, adding that 5Gi standard is very much viable for the wider coverage and other technical enhancements provided by this standard over 3GPP technology, and can be implemented by software changes.

The standards body boasts an indigenously-developed 5G candidate standard, saying it was ratified by the International Mobile Telecommunications (ITU) in 2020. But the industry says that it has no interoperability with 3GPP 5G, and telcos would be bound to bear high cost due to technology and infrastructure fragmentation, and would further drag the commercial rollouts.

TSDSI, however, contested the industry claim and said that most of the changes in 5Gi are software-based and would not require any change at the hardware level. “No cost increase is perceived as confirmed by some operators,” it added.

“5Gi can be deployed only in standalone mode and cannot work together with service providers’ existing 4G networks, and it does not have a clear roadmap to incorporate new and evolving features of 3GPP Release 16, Release 17, Release 18 and so forth,” another executive said.

But, India’s standards body said that it would work to keep the standard updated, and for which a roadmap will also be created.

While the telecom department (DoT) seeks to make locally-developed standard mandatory, the industry feels that if such a move becomes binding for network operators, then the entire mobile phone manufacturing initiative of the government and industry would go in vain.

“For 5Gi, there is a need to check for the evolution of the current specification, incorporating the new features from the 3GPP in a forward-compatible manner,” Kochhar said and added that the Indian standard may be listed as optional and the choice should be left with telcos to choose from 5Gi and 3GPP.

The industry group further said that it supports technologies that are compatible and interoperable with existing and evolving global standards.

In February this year, the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) president Joe Barrett, in a letter to India’s Telecom Engineering Centre (TEC) sought the adoption of 3GPP’s recent specifications as national standards and added that several of its members were “already in advanced planning stages” with Indian operators for network migration and rollouts.

“3GPP also has a well-defined roadmap for standards evolution with releases available every 15 months that are backward compatible,” the UK-based suppliers’ group in the letter said.

Earlier in January, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea together with the US-based chipset maker Qualcomm, and Finnish Nokia, Swedish Ericsson, Chinese Huawei, and Korean Samsung, and Japanese NEC, in a common letter to the department’s engineering wing said that the products based on 3GPP specifications have already been incorporated into the regulatory requirements for conformance testing with statutory and certification bodies worldwide.


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