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India to build commercial tech for mobile base station


(This story originally appeared in on Nov 21, 2020)

In a first, India will be developing technologies for mobile base stations that can be commercialised, which will boost a host of private firms including small and medium industries, academia research labs and make 5G services — yet to be launched — more affordable.

The technology will be developed as part of a Rs 150-crore national project that officially kicked off earlier this month in Bengaluru. A Technology Innovation Hub (TIH) established as a Section-8 (not-for-profit) company at the International Institute of Information Technology-Bangalore (IIIT-B) will lead the R&D collaboration.

This government-funded project — under the national mission on interdisciplinary cyber physical systems (NM-ICPS) — will also build other advanced communications and cyber physical systems technologies relating to, but not limited to, 5G.

Prof Debabrata Das from IIIT-B, where the TIH has come up, told TOI: “It’s high time India entered the base station business given that we have the second highest number of mobile users. So far, all technologies of base stations were proprietary and majorly owned by foreign firms. What we’ll be doing is to develop technology indigenously using open source architecture.”

TOI spoke with multiple officials from the department of science and technology (DST), which is funding the project, who confirmed the project details. Prof Ashutosh Sharma, secretary, DST said that the TIH will build an array of technologies relating to advanced communications and will play a crucial role in not just indigenising technology and creating a knowledge hub but also encouraging private firms.

A senior DST official said: “IIIT-B has demonstrated capabilities to do this. We’re also looking at software-defined 5G networks which can augment existing technologies and redefine them. While this would be the primary focus of this TIH, it would also allow industries to co-develop technologies or products and push for commercialisation. Spin off of startups and other companies will also be encouraged. In the future, the TIH may address other challenges, including those in the field of quantum communications.”

Das further explained that the base station technology will be built on ORAN (Open Radio Access Network), which is a new open source architecture that is in focus around the world.

“ORAN, a base station architecture that will have a modular structure, will allow different modules such as radio band, base band, access control modules, radio link control modules and control planes, base stations management planes, to be independently developed. These modules will be interconnected by open interfaces, as a result, any company or academia’s research labs can develop one or more of these modules, and need not build all of them together.” Das said.

He added this will expedite the process of innovations and products in these areas and allow customers also to pick different firms for different modules.

“This is an important aspect given the PM’s call for Atmanirbhar Bharat. Right now all the base stations in India, lakhs of them, are majorly imported. And with 5G, you will need more stations than 4G because although 5G has a higher bandwidth it’ll have a lower coverage area due to possible use of higher frequency range. For example, if a 4G station can cover a 1,000 meters radius, a 5G station will only manage 500 metres in urban areas. One can estimate the value of having such technologies built indigenously and commercialised,” Das said.

It is noteworthy that two big telcos, Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel have also announced plans of developing various technologies relating to 5G.

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