Reliance Jio has stated that it will start developing its own 5G solution, which it will roll out by end of 2021 provided they are allotted the required spectrum band by DoT’s SACFA. Jio will most likely follow the ORAN (Open Radio Access Network), as done by some other developers like Rakuten in Japan. The general idea is the software developers will combine their software with general-purpose hardware (from Intel, Nvidia, etc.), along with radios from similar vendors.
Reliance Jio in conjunction with other local IT players, has managed to build its own 5G software stack and is likely embracing Open RAN techniques or possibly even Cloud-RAN as an architecture. This would allow them to avoid paying to network gear vendors (i.e. Ericsson, Nokia or Samsung in lids case for 4G) and potentially allow them to export their expertise to other foreign markets. However, most of the semiconductors used to power the Radio access networks are foreign developed and produced as Jio doesn’t have any patents or manufacturing facility today.
Is Jio looking to leverage the work of TIP (the Telecom Infrastructure Project), which was founded by Facebook ? TIP’S objective is to develop, test and deploy open, disaggregated, and standards based solutions that deliver the high quality connectivity that the world needs with the aim of connecting the 50% of humanity which remains unconnected.
Jio is not currently a member of TIP, it is listed as a member of the Open RAN Policy coalition whose stated goal is to promote policies that will advance the adoption of open and interoperable solutions in the Radio Access Network (RAN) as a means to create innovation, spur competition and expand the supply chain for advanced wireless technologies including 5G.
Under current normal deployment modes, the communication protocols between the RRU (Remote Radio Unit), DU (distributed Unit) and CU (Centralized Unit) are all proprietary to the equipment provider. Open RAN is a movement to standardize the protocols and interfaces between the various subcomponents (radios, hardware and software) in the RAN (to enable) an environment where networks can be deployed with a more modular design without being dependent upon a single vendor. The following diagram from CISCO shows how Open RAN differs from COTS / Vendor based RAN deployments.
You can read the difference between Open RAN Vs COTS 5G provided by vendors.
Bernstein in a report states that there will be progressive virtualization of many of the traditional network elements. This means more and more of what is 5G is software, and this can be programmed to run on standardized computing devices (i.e. data center clouds). TIP (the Telecoms Infrastructure Project supported by Facebook) and the Open RAN alliance are all pushing in this direction. Major operators like Vodafone and Telefonica are also supporting this move.
Can investors of Jio Platform augment the Open 5G Development ?
We already know Facebook the first & biggest investor in Jio is involved in the project TIP. Qualcomm is a market leader in SoC (system-on-chip) with the main SOC responsible for computation (e.g. running Android. iOS apps) and communication (i.e. connecting with base stations). Primary SOC turns expensive as more circuits evolve and hence more silicon areas are needed to support the high complexity. Google and Jio will develop entry level 4G and 5G smartphones. Google will also provide optimizations to its Android operating system and playstore for smartphones that Jio will launch in the future.
One of the developers Radisys, is a global provider of software defined platform and services to original equipment manufacturers which Reliance bought (now part of Jio PLatforms) and, thus, has access to 5G software technology. Altiostar (a US based but Indian owned software provider) has made a cloud based 4G system for Rakuten in Japan. Given the current Rakuten CTO Tareeq Ameen is the ex CTO of Jio Networks, there may also be some cooperation there. Tech Mahindra (5th largest Indian IT services company) has a 15% stake in Altiostar.
Reliance Jio’s enormous experience and scale deployment for its own network will definitely give it an advantage in its attempt to roll out its proprietary 5G solution, but it will still be in experimental mode for the next 2-3 years, until such time that enough mass-market handsets with 5G capabilities enter the installed base in India.