Nitin Bansal,
Head, Ericsson India,
and Head, Network
Solutions, Southeast Asia,
Oceania and India

Despite the Covid pandemic, 2020 turned out to be a good year for the Indian telecom network and technology vendors. Automation, softwarisation and virtualisation emerged as key trends while telcos took steps to make their networks future ready. Network up-gradation, especially in anticipation of 5G, will continue to be a key theme in 2021 as well. Nitin Bansal, Head, Ericsson India, and Head, Network Solutions, Southeast Asia, Oceania and India, shares his views on the performance of the sector in 2020, the key growth drivers, opportunities in the evolving 5G landscape and the future outlook…

How has the Indian telecom technology landscape evolved in 2020? What were some of the key business highlights for your company?

The year 2020 saw considerable growth in mobile data and voice traffic globally as well as in India owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, thus underscoring the importance of resilient networks. People multitasked between devices while staying at home, using data for everything from work to socialising. Video traffic continued to be the dominant driver of mobile data traffic. As per the Ericsson Mobility Report (November 2020), the average traffic per smartphone user increased from 13.5 GB per month in 2019 to 15.7 GB per month in 2020. This additional load on networks led to network replanning and end-to-end redimensioning activities focusing on network design, capacity, performance and traffic handling to ensure that customer experience from the network is not compromised.

In 2020, service providers focused on enhancing network capacity in order to tackle the data traffic demand. From a business perspective, Airtel extended its partnership with Ericsson for the deployment of 5G-ready radio, 5G core and transport solutions. Airtel also renewed its agreement with Ericsson to provide pan-India managed network operations through the Ericsson Operations Engine.

In 2021, we expect to see a pickup in 4G deployments backed by spectrum auctions. We also expect to see an increased focus on 5G deployment strategies and development of India-relevant 5G use cases.

What were the key technology trends that emerged amidst the Covid-19 pandemic? Which of these will continue to shape the post-Covid world?

The Covid-19 situation led to an increase in data consumption with the average time spent on mobile broadband increasing by an hour globally. However, in India, the average time spent on mobile broadband went up by 2.2 hours per day. As opposed to the global trends where consumers are relying on fixed line networks, Indian consumers are relying more on mobile broadband. In many ways, this new normal has emphasised the need for connectivity and 5G underpins the need for accelerated and seamless experiences across enterprises and consumers.

What are your views on India’s readiness to roll out 5G services? How are you engaging with your partners on this front or contributing to the overall ecosystem?

On preparedness for 5G, Ericsson’s Radio System hardware has been 5G ready since 2015 enabling operators to upgrade with a remote software installation. We have been working with our partners on 5G for several years in labs and in advanced outdoor field trials.

In India, we have been working with our operator partners as well as the academic community to test and develop various 5G use cases relevant for India. To that effect, Ericsson and Qualcomm successfully collaborated at the India Mobile Congress 2019 to showcase India’s first-ever live 5G video call using a 28 GHz spectrum. Ericsson also demonstrated the reliability, speed and low latency of 5G through the Connected Music use case in partnership with Airtel at the same event. Globally, Ericsson has an established 5G leadership with 124 5G commercial agreements worldwide and we are running 79 live 5G networks across the world in countries like the US, South Korea and Australia.

What are your views on the government’s Atmanirbhar Bharat mission? How are you contributing to this mission? Do you have a policy/regulatory wish list on this front?

Ericsson has been present in India for over 100 years and has not only been a witness to but also a partner in the evolution of telecommunications in the country. We were the first company to manufacture telecom equipment in India, for India and the world. We commenced manufacturing in 1994 with most of the hardware deployed in customer networks made in India. We have also commenced the export of telecom equipment to countries in Southeast Asia.

We are aligned with the Atmanirbhar Bharat vision and continue to support it. We have stayed committed to India over the past 117 years, enabling customers to enjoy the benefits of 2G, 3G and 4G technology and are now ready to support the country in its 5G journey.

To reap the benefits of 5G, public policy must ensure that ubiquitous network connectivity is made available to bridge the digital divide. This includes policy interventions such as covering past investments under the recently introduced PLI scheme to promote indigenous manufacturing, making sufficient 5G spectrum available at the right price, and optimising spectrum assignments to deliver seamless 5G connectivity.

Going forward, how do you see Indian telecom networks transform to become future ready? What will be the key opportunities and challenges?

Given the surge in mobile data traffic, networks are becoming more complex. To handle current requirements and become future ready, telecom operators need to be prepared to manage the network complexities while ensuring efficiency from the cost, network and operations standpoints. To mitigate these complexities, operators are increasingly adopting technologies such as AI and ML to better manage their network operations.

Today, we are seeing some level of AI already being incorporated into networks. We are addressing AI-driven automation operational demands through network intelligence, which combines three pillars – data, analytics and insights – to tackle the increasing complexities of modern networks and prepare service providers for 5G.

Besides, AI and automation will help service providers improve cost-efficient customer experiences as 5G-driven IoT and Industry 4.0 gather pace.