Bharti Airtel awards 5G network deals to Ericsson, Nokia and also Samsung

Close on the heels of the completion of the 5G spectrum auction, India’s second-largest service provider announced that it had signed network agreements with Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung to start 5G deployment this month.

“Our network agreements are finalized, and Airtel will work with the best technology partners from across the world to deliver the full benefits of 5G connectivity to our consumers. India’s transition into a digital economy will be led by telecom, and 5G presents a game-changing opportunity to drive the digital transformation of industries, enterprises and the socio-economic development of India,” said Gopal Vittal, MD and CEO at Bharti Airtel.

While the company has a long-standing partnership with Ericsson and Nokia, this will be the first time it will work with Korean gear maker Samsung.

Until now, Samsung had an exclusive arrangement with Reliance Jio for 4G RAN. This deal signals that the vendor has made serious inroads in the Indian market and may have benefited from the absence of Chinese vendors from the 5G deals.

“As a global leader in 5G, Samsung is excited to embark on this 5G journey with Airtel to deliver innovative solutions that will help advance India’s entrepreneurial spirit and open up a new paradigm for the country,” said Paul (Kyungwhoon) Cheun, president and head of Networks Business at Samsung Electronics, in the press release issued by Airtel.

While the details of the deal with particular vendors were not revealed, the press release does mention that Nokia will provide equipment from its “AirScale portfolio along with solutions and services for network management, deployment, planning and optimization services to ensure the best end-user experiences.”

However, Airtel has not revealed any further details, including the value of the deals with each vendor or which vendor has won the contract for which circle, among others. 

Exploring new vendors

Some media reports mention that just like Airtel, Reliance Jio has also gone beyond its traditional vendor and has awarded at least a part of its 5G contracts to Ericsson. While Jio is yet to reveal any vendor contracts for 5G, if the media reports turn out to be accurate, this would be the first time it would be working with Ericsson for Radio Access Network (RAN).

Airtel had a long partnership with Huawei, which might be one reason it is trying to explore new vendors since Chinese vendors are yet to receive "trusted vendor" certification from the Department of Telecommunications. Moreover, the Chinese vendors were also barred from 5G trials, making it imperative for the service providers to explore new vendors. It is also possible that Samsung might have sweetened the deal for Airtel as it might be keen to acquire 5G business from other telcos besides Jio, assuming that Jio is also trying new vendors.

Airtel has acquired 19,867 MHz of spectrum for $5.5 billion. Most of this spectrum is concentrated in 3300 MHz and 26 GHz frequency bands. Like other service providers, it has been conducting 5G trials over the last few months.