Jio has taken another step toward building China-proof 5G for India

Eyes on the prize.
Eyes on the prize.
Image: Reuters/Denis Balibouse
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Amid a global anti-China sentiment, Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani has found an American partner to execute his 5G ambitions.

On Oct. 21, Jio Platforms, the next-gen technology arm of Ambani’s Reliance Industries, said it is partnering with California-headquartered Qualcomm Technologies to “fast track the development and roll-out of indigenous 5G network infrastructure and services” in India.

Ambani had in July announced that Jio Platforms has developed a 5G solution in-house for India, which will be ready for field deployment in 2021. This made Jio Platforms the first-ever Indian company to have 5G capabilities.

Qualcomm is one of the world’s leading wireless technology firms, which works on the development, launch, and expansion of 5G. The company was possibly the obvious choice for Ambani given that most other leaders in 5G technology are Chinese, and India is in the middle of an economic and political conflict with the neighbouring country.

Jio’s China-proof ambitions

Jio’s announcement comes at a time when the world is tilting towards China-free tech. Countries around the world, including the UK and the US, have already banned Chinese players like Huwaei.

Jio’s tie-up with Qualcomm gives it an edge over rivals as most other Indian telecom companies, including the government-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam (BSNL), are involved with Chinese firms to test 5G.

Not a replacement of Huawei

Jio has the software to accelerate its 5G plans but for the hardware, it will depend on another company, said Parv Sharma, an analyst at Counterpoint Research.

“Jio is using an Open RAN (O-RAN) approach to deploy 5G in India. O-RAN is still developing, and the ecosystem is complex. Also, network performance is still a major challenge as general-purpose hardware is struggling to achieve performance…it will take a long time for Jio ecosystem to pose a challenge to traditional players like Ericsson, Nokia, and Huawei,” Sharma said.

O-RAN or Open Radio Access Network technology allows service providers to speed up 5G network development. The O-RAN Alliance comprises a network of major industry players including Telefónica, AT&T, and Verizon.

But this hasn’t stopped Ambani from making big bets. Google’s investment in Jio Platforms could help Ambani in achieving the dominance he might be aiming for.

Additionally, the two companies have also signed an agreement to jointly develop an “entry-level affordable” 4G/5G smartphone. “The Jio-Google partnership is determined to make India 2G-mukt (free),” Ambani said in July. “As India is standing at the doorsteps of the 5G era, we should accelerate the migration of 350 million Indians, who currently use a 2G feature phone, to an affordable smartphone.”