Airtel and Meta tie on open RAN, subsea cables and CPaaS
Indian operator Bharti Airtel and Facebook owner Meta plan to collaborate in areas such as communications platform-as-a-service (CPaaS), open RAN and international connectivity as part of a broader aim to help build India’s ‘digital ecosystem’.
For instance, the wide-ranging agreement will see Airtel partner with Meta and Saudi Telecom Company (STC) to extend the 2Africa Pearls subsea cable to Airtel’s landing station in Mumbai.
2Africa Pearls itself is an extension of the 2Africa cable system being built by a consortium comprising China Mobile International, Meta, MTN GlobalConnect, Orange, STC, Telecom Egypt, Vodafone and West Indian Ocean Cable Company.
Airtel describes 2Africa as the world’s longest subsea cable system and said it is expected to provide faster internet connectivity to almost three billion people globally. Launched in 2020, it will connect the three continents of Europe, Africa and Asia when it has been completed in 2023 in order to meet the growing need for data.
Indeed, Nokia’s MBiT Index, a report on mobile broadband performance in India, noted that India’s data usage was amongst the highest in the world during 2017-2021 with a 53% CAGR in mobile broadband data traffic. Mobile 5G services revenue in India is forecast to grow at a CAGR of 164% between 2022-2026, according to the index.
Driving open RAN
In terms of open radio access networks (RAN), Airtel and Meta are already members of the Open RAN project group at the Facebook-led Telecom Infra Project (TIP). Airtel has now signed an agreement to help increase the operational efficiency of open RAN and facilitate energy management and automation in radio networks using advanced analytics and AI/ML models.
Airtel indicated that it is currently conducting trials for 4G and 5G open RAN solutions on select sites in the state of Haryana and will commercially deploy the solution across several locations in India over the next few quarters. The operator intends to share its learnings with the TIP community to help accelerate the deployment of open RAN-based networks across the world.
As explained by Francisco Varela, vice president of mobile partnerships for Meta, subsea cables and open, disaggregated networks “continue to play a huge role in the foundational infrastructure needed to support network capacity and fuel innovation. We look forward to continuing our collaboration with Airtel to further advance the region’s connectivity infrastructure that will enable a better network experience for people and businesses across India.”
As for CPaaS, Airtel plans to integrate Meta-owned messaging platform WhatsApp within its Airtel IQ CPaaS platform in order to support omni-channel customer engagement. The two companies aim to address the growing demand by enterprises for cloud-based services in India.