Indian industrial conglomerate Reliance Industries has announced that it has developed its own 5G network infrastructure and hopes to offer it as a manged service to carriers worldwide.
At its annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday, chairman, Mukesh Ambani, said that the group's telecoms unit had developed a "complete 5G solution from scratch... using 100 per cent homegrown technologies and solutions."
Customer number one will be Jio Platforms, the Reliance-owned carrier that has recently attracted investment from Google, Intel, Facebook and many others.
"Because of Jio's converged, all-IP network architecture, we can easily upgrade our 4G network to 5G," said Ambani, adding that the solution could be deployed as early as next year.
"Once Jio's 5G is proven at India-scale, Jio Platforms would be well positioned to be an exporter of 5G solutions to other telecom operators globally, as a complete managed service."
So far it is unclear whether Jio plans to build the actual infrastructure or offer a software stack that integrates with hardware from other players. In the case of the latter, several new players have entered the field, including HPE and Microsoft, both of which believe they can challenge telco-centric companies' grip on the industry.
Just what Reliance has built was not discussed. If the company has indeed built the many pieces of hardware and software required for a complete network it is a substantial achievement given other vendors to have done so have long experience building telco-grade networking kit. Even kit to upgrade other 4G networks will be a fine score.
Just building Jio Platforms' network will be a challenge. But if anyone can do it, it would be Ambani. Reliance Jio made its name in India by shelling out $35bn to build the country's first all-4G network using Samsung kit. The company then offered a slew of free calls and cheap data deals that offered buyers a strong alternative. Today it is India's biggest telecom operator, accounting for over 380m users, or about a third of the total market.
The success of those efforts is reflected in the recent $20bn investment splurge on the carrier.
It's a fine time to offer 5G infrastructure as mobile carriers everywhere are already adopting the new standard or planning new builds. They're doing so as trade tensions mean many carriers are less likely to shop with Huawei . India, too, is currently in the midst of a big self-sufficiency drive and Ambani said the new range is offered as an embodiment of the policy.
We'll learn more about what Reliance has created in early 2021 when India's India's 5G trials commence. That's later than the planned April 2020 start date, which was pushed back after local telecom operators such as Bharti Airtel and Vodafone argued that India's government had priced spectrum too high for them to plan new networks. ®