Bharti Airtel Ltd, India’s second-largest telecom operator and next only to Reliance-owned Jio, announced on Tuesday, a collaboration with US chipmaker Qualcomm to roll out 5G services in India, saying that Qualcomm’s 5G RAN platforms, which run on the cloud, would be used to roll out virtualized and open RAN-based 5G networks in the country. 5G is the latest generation of wireless networks.

Airtel’s announcement came shortly after it had demonstrated 5G services over a live commercial network in Hyderabad. Airtel is an OpenRAN (O-RAN) board member as well.

In an official statement, Airtel said, “The flexible and scalable architecture of O-RAN will create new opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses to become viable players in the deployment of 5G networks.” The telecom operator added that it was committed to driving the success of O-RAN and was working with Qualcomm to explore and implement the O-RAN approach for India. This approach, according to Airtel, would help create new opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses to become viable players in the deployment of 5G networks.

This collaboration will entail using 5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) for Gigabit speed broadband connectivity while seeking a faster rollout of broadband services in a cost-effective manner. “This collaboration … aims to allow a faster rollout of broadband services…across India for “last mile” connectivity challenges that are becoming increasingly important in today’s remote, mobile-first society,” Airtel said.

Tuesday’s announcement marks the second collaboration of Qualcomm with a telco in India. It had partnered with Airtel’s rival- Jio and its wholly-owned subsidiary Radisys Corporation in 2020 to develop an open and interoperable interface compliant architecture-based 5G solutions with a virtualized RAN.

Randeep Sekhon, CTO, Bharti Airtel, said that Airtel was delighted to have Qualcomm as “a key technology provider in our journey to roll-out world-class 5G in India. With Airtel’s integrated service portfolio and Qualcomm Technologies’ 5G leadership, we will be well placed to usher India into the next era of hyper-fast and ultra-low latency digital connectivity.” He added that Airtel’s networks were ready for 5G.

“There is a compelling case to accelerate the roll-out of 5G networks in India, as it will help fast-track the country’s socio-economic growth and development. This collaboration is expected to play a critical role in Airtel’s plans to add 5G network coverage and capacity where and when it is needed the most,” said Rajen Vagadia, Vice President, Qualcomm India.

5G is set to be the new rage in the market, with Reliance Industries’ Jio set to launch 5G in India as soon as the spectrum auction comes around. However, telecoms have raised concerns over the relatively high pricing of spectrum in India.

Mukesh Ambani had earlier announced that Jio 5G service(s) would be launched in India in the second half of the year, and would be powered by an indigenous-developed network, hardware, and technology components.