Telco to submit fresh applications for trials in Kolkata & Bengaluru with Nokia, Ericsson

Bharti Airtel is preparing to submit fresh applications for 5G trials with European vendors Nokia and Ericsson for circles or cities where it previously filed to partner with Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE.

People familiar with the matter said that Airtel is now applying for Kolkata and Bengaluru with Finland’s Nokia and Sweden’s Ericsson, instead of ZTE and Huawei, respectively.

The development will allow the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to wriggle out of a tricky situation and release trial 5G spectrum to telecom operators without having to decide on Chinese vendors. Reliance Jio has already filed separate applications, with Samsung and without, while Vodafone Idea is awaiting the Supreme Court verdict on the adjusted gross revenue dues (AGR), which will determine its existential future, before taking a final call.

DoT officials are in a fix in the absence of a formal stance of the government on whether to allow Chinese equipment makers for 5G trials, and thus have not been able to progress on trial spectrum allocation.

So, “the plus one application will make the job easy for the DoT. They can just allow one application in that circle or city without having to take a call to keep anyone out,” a person familiar with the matter said.

Amid heightened tensions on the India-China border, Chinese investments— both existing and potential—in India have come under close scrutiny of the government. New Delhi has so far barred the Chinese gear makers from supplying equipment to state-run telecom service providers Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd, and has privately said that the two will also not be allowed for 5G deployments even for private operators. But there has been no formal communication so far.

ZTE and Huawei have been the 4G vendors for Airtel in Kolkata and Bengaluru, and applications for 5G trials were submitted for seamless network integration. “However, with the latest move, Airtel is indicating which European vendors could replace Chinese vendors in these circles in the future,” the person said.

The telco has already been reducing its dependence on Huawei, having replaced the vendor with Ericsson in Rajasthan, and looking to do the same in the Rest of Tamil Nadu circle, ET had reported earlier.

Airtel, Vodafone, Nokia and Ericsson did not responded to ET’s queries.

Vodafone Idea Ltd (VIL), though, hasn’t moved to file any fresh application for 5G trials. It had previously submitted with Ericsson, Nokia, Huawei and ZTE for Pune, Gujarat, Delhi-NCR and Patna, respectively.

Market leader Reliance Jio, in its first application, partnered with Samsung and then applied to go solo using its own 5G technology.

During these trials, participating telecom gear vendors will be bearing the full equipment cost. While some equipment could be locally sourced from their factories, they will require to import some others. “Per city, there will be 4-6 sites that will be needed that can host up to 60 units of various equipment,” another person said.