Altiostar deploys open vRAN for India’s Bharti Airtel

India’s Bharti Airtel announced it’s deployed Altiostar’s open virtual RAN software across its 4G network in multiple major cities in India.

The announcement comes one day after the mobile operator picked Nokia for a widescale multi-year contract to enhance 4G capacity, including the deployment of about 300,000 radio units by 2022.

In terms of its work with Altiostar, Bharti Airtel is the first operator in India to deploy vRAN-based 4G network solutions, which it said is a key aspect of its network strategy. The software is 5G-ready and Altiostar said it could seamlessly transition to 5G using the same network architecture. The deployment includes both macro sites and small cells in India, according to Shabbir Bagasrawala, Altiostar's head of Product Go-To-Market. 

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“As a customer obsessed brand, we at Airtel are consistently strengthening our network architecture with innovative technology break-through. An Open vRAN is one such solution which is essential for the deployment of next-generation 4G and 5G technologies efficiently as we take mobile broadband to the masses,” said Randeep Sekhon, CTO of Bharti Airtel, in a statement. “We look forward to closely working with Altiostar for our vRAN deployment which is a significant aspect of our network strategy.”

Altiostar, one of the U.S.-based software vendors making moves in the open RAN space, said its work with Airtel will help introduce additional cost efficiencies in the operator’s radio access network, and also set the foundation for introducing 5G services with technologies like network slicing.

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Ashraf Dahod, president and CEO of Altiostar, in a statement called the collaboration with Bharti Airtel exciting because the scale and breadth of its network “will demonstrate the innovation and the disruption that open vRAN solutions are bringing to the industry.”

Headquartered in New Delhi, Bharti Airtel has operations in 18 countries across Asia and Africa, counting more than 418 million customers across its businesses at the end of 2019.

“India is a mobile-first market that leads the world in mobile data and video consumption and by deploying Altiostar open vRAN solution, Bharti Airtel can evolve its network to maintain its leadership and continue its mission to provide customers with exceptional experiences,” Dahod’s statement continued.  

According to the GSMA, India as the world’s second largest telecom market is expected to hit 920 million unique mobile customers by 2025.

Altiostar has been working with operators all over the world on virtualized and open RAN, including Rakuten’s recent greenfield build in Japan, acting as the main software vendor for its 4G RAN. Altiostar counts Rakuten among its investors, along with Cisco, Telefonica and others. In February, Altiostar and Intel announced they’re working with Rakuten to launch the world’s first container-based, cloud-native 5G network.

"We are working with Airtel on an open virtualized RAN deployment model. Airtel by backing us is on the leading-edge in India in deploying cloud-based technologies and the open RAN revolution similar to Rakuten," said Bagasrawala in emailed comments to Fierce.

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The Japanese operator worked with a variety of vendors on its fully virtualized 4G network, and speaking at a Qualcomm event in February Rakuten CTO Tareq Amin called out Nokia, crediting the vendor for opening up its remote radio unit interface to Altiostar, a decision he said “was not trivial.”

Nokia and Altiostar played nice on work for Rakuten’s network, though for Airtel's macrocell sites Altiostar is deployed in different circles (coverage areas) than the legacy vendor, Bagasrawala confirmed. 

Earlier this year Nokia’s CTO for North America, Mike Murphy, told lawmakers that ORAN specified by the O-RAN Alliance and RAN virtualization is limited in maturity, a sentiment Altiostar and competing openRAN software vendor Mavenir disagreed with.

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“This is not pie in the sky,” Altiostar’s Thierry Maupilé said in March regarding the movement to openRAN and virtualization. “This is real innovation which is deployed, working and performing extremely well.”

Not all operators have been quick to jump on board with open RAN, but India’s Airtel has been active in standardization efforts, as a member of both the O-RAN Alliance and Facebook’s Telecom Infra Project (TIP).

Updated with comments from Shabbir Bagasrawala.