Airtel and Cisco are teaming up to build India’s largest 5G-ready network — spectrum auction pending

Airtel and Cisco are teaming up to build India’s largest 5G-ready network — spectrum auction pending
Bharti Airtel (India and South Asia) MD and CEO Gopal Vittal in New DelhiIANS

  • Bharti Airtel and Cisco announced that they’re going to work together to build India’s largest 5G-ready IP network at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2019.
  • The implementation of the 5G-ready network will be dependent on the 5G auction scheduled to take place in July, later this year.
  • The company has been facing cash flow problems resulting in Moody’s downgrading their status to ‘junk’.
Bharti Airtel and Cisco announced their collaboration to build India’s largest 5G-ready IP network at the Mobile World Congress 2019 on Sunday. While the company may be poised to build such a network, most of its implementation will depend on the 5G spectrum allocation scheduled for July.

"Partnering with Cisco will help us transform our network architecture to enhance customer experiences while concurrently preparing for 5G and the era of connected things"

Randeep Sekhon, CTO at Bharti Airtel (Press release)

Last year, Airtel was reportedly not going to participate in the 5G auction altogether because the company felt as though ultra-fast wireless technology was still three to four years away for India — and also because the company has been having cash flow problems.

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It was already treading troubled waters in the Indian market with the onslaught of Reliance Jio’s price-war when Moody’s investor services downgraded Bharti Airtel to ‘junk’ status. The credit rating company justified that this was because Airtel had been facing negative cash flows over the past three quarters that ultimately hit a 15-year low.

The India opportunity


Bharti Airtel, like other telecom operators in India, has been struggling to hold onto its subscribers since Jio’s onslaught of low-priced data offerings. But preparing themselves for the 5G race gives the company the opportunity to capitalise on India’s potential of over 1.1 billion subscribers.

The Bharti Mittal enterprise already offers the highest speeds in India on 4G according to a report by Tutela, a mobile quality measurement company. But, that claim has been contested before. An official report by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) put Reliance Jio’s average speed at almost double of what Airtel is able to provide.

And while Airtel’s plan may be ambitious, there’s been a lot of disgruntlement over the spectrum trial period being restricted to 90 days. The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) has stated that it’s just too short to serve the desired purpose. Instead, COAI recommends that the trial period should be for 12 months in order to fully test the network requirements.

Airtel isn’t the only company in Cisco’s portfolio. India’s singular 4G-only telecom operator, Reliance Jio, also runs on Cisco’s network architecture.

See also:
Ericsson's pact with Vodafone Idea is the next step towards a $27 billion goal

5G vendors claim India’s next-gen network rollout will still happen as scheduled

Samsung announces a host of 5G-ready smartphones ahead of the Mobile World Congress 2019