As the pandemic accelerates digital transformation across industries, service providers, globally and in India, are looking to fast-track their 5G deployments.
Although 5G rollout has been delayed in India due to high spectrum costs, the Covid-19 pandemic has created motivation for fast-forwarding deployment. A pan-India 5G rollout would require an investment of about $30 billion from telcos. Anand Bhaskar, managing director, service providers, Cisco India & SAARC, tells Kiran Rathee that the concept of an open, virtualised mobile infrastructure — or OpenRAN — can reduce capex by almost 50%. Excerpts.
Recently, mobile operators in India have started to talk about OpenRAN, and some trials are also happening. Can you provide some insights into cost savings if telcos adopt OpenRAN compared to proprietary networks?
As the pandemic accelerates digital transformation across industries, service providers, globally and in India, are looking to fast-track their 5G deployments. However, given the challenges that the Covid-19 crisis has created — liquidity crunch, ARPU to support investments, quality of service, growing demand for contactless services and new use cases especially in the enterprise space — service providers are looking for new and more cost-effective ways of deploying and managing these networks quickly.
This is where the concept of an open, virtualised mobile infrastructure, or OpenRAN, becomes critical. Typically, RAN makes up the majority of the network cost. O-RAN enables telecom service providers to diversify supply chains, bring in unprecedented levels of interoperability and agility, which can help reduce their capex by almost 50%.
A recent study found that 5G deployments that leveraged OpenRAN saw capex savings of as high as 49%, while another study projects average savings for cloud network deployments to be 37% over five years. Additionally, O-RAN will allow service providers to offer a plethora of new cloud-delivered services to enterprises and end-consumers, reduce their time-to-market, and create new revenue streams.
Can you share details about capex requirements for telecom operators for rolling out 5G networks in India?
A comprehensive, secure and efficient 5G infrastructure requires investments in fibre, network densification and specialised base stations, which equates to significant capex investments for telecom players. Investments are needed in three key components — spectrum, sites and fiberisation on mid/low-band spectrums — which would require an investment of about $30 billion for pan-India coverage.
Spectrum is a scarce resource, but the requirement for 5G is enormous. Can you speak about the minimum quantum of spectrum required by a telco for offering a whole bouquet of 5G services?
5G needs spectrum across low-, mid- and high-spectrum ranges to ensure maximum coverage and enable a plethora of use cases. For instance, low bands of sub-1GHz are better suited to support coverage of larger and remotely located areas. Mid-sized bands — 3.3-3.8 GHz — offer benefits of both coverage and capacity, while high bands, like 40 MHz, are required for incredibly high broadband speeds. While both bands have sufficient quantity available for seamless 5G service, the mid-band spectrum is best suited in terms of cost as well as quantity. Though plans for 5G rollout in India seem delayed due to high spectrum costs, the pandemic has certainly created motivation for fast-forwarding deployment.
What kind of opportunity does Cisco see in India for 5G?
5G is not just about access technology and more throughput, but about a new framework to cater to the evolving needs of consumers, small businesses, enterprises and the government. If 4G was about speeds and feeds, 5G will be about creating experiences and opens up a world of opportunities for telecom service providers. Additionally, many companies are looking to redistribute and automate their supply chains to make them more agile and impervious to future crises. At Cisco, we are already working towards helping service providers get their networks 5G-ready by building the internet of the future. Additionally, we recently launched a programmable chipset, called Silicon One, built for high-performance networking for future 5G applications. Globally, we have committed $5 billion in funding to help build 5G networks over the next three years to support our customers in accelerating their 5G deployments.