The story of how Reliance Jio skyrocketed to the top of India’s telecom sector cannot be told without mentioning Samsung. The South Korean electronics major built Jio’s high-speed 4G network, one now used by some 500 million subscribers across India.

As India gears up for 5G telecom networks, though, this years-long partnership could be winding down. Over the last two years, the relationship relationship The Ken Alliance or Reliance: Samsung prepares for life without Jio Read more between the two companies has been mired in uncertainty. With Jio turning its eyes—and capex—towards the next generation of telecom networks, Samsung still hasn’t secured a deal to be its equipment provider.

And while negotiations are still on between the duo, Samsung is getting restless. According to executives close to Bharti Airtel, Samsung executives have already reached out to the company—Jio’s arch-rival and India’s #2 telco—to secure a slice of Airtel’s 5G investments. Both companies have kept these talks under wraps. So much so that the negotiations are being handled by executives from Samsung’s headquarters in Seoul, rather than by its Mumbai-based local team.

What’s on the table is Samsung’s virtualised RAN RAN Radio Access Network A part of the mobile network which connects devices with the core of the network offerings—a piece of technology crucial for the transmission of 5G signals in a cost-effective manner. Samsung is already deploying its virtualised RAN solutions for Verizon as part of a $6.6 billion deal to supply the US telco giant with 5G equipment.

Executives close to Airtel claim a deal hasn’t yet been signed between the two companies. The announcement, says one such executive, would happen only once a long-term deal is in place, and this could happen closer to India’s 5G auctions. The auctions—which have already been pushed back multiple times—could happen by mid-2022. Questions sent to Airtel, Reliance, and Samsung went unanswered.

The deal, if it comes to fruition, would be a marked departure from Airtel’s 5G path thus far. For its ongoing 5G trials, Airtel is using equipment from Swedish telecoms major Ericsson and Finnish telecoms stalwart Nokia. So far, Airtel hasn’t filed an application with the Department of Telecom (DoT ) to use Samsung equipment in its 5G trials, multiple sources told The Ken.

Even as it courts Airtel, Samsung hasn’t given up on being a part of Jio’s 5G future. In an ideal scenario, it would like an exclusive partnership with Jio, as was the case with Jio’s 4G network, said sources close to the two companies. Jio, however, seems intent on splitting its 5G equipment needs between two players, said sources close to both Jio and Samsung.

AUTHOR

Pratap Vikram Singh

Pratap is based out of Delhi and covers policy and myriad intersections with the other sectors, most notably technology. He has worked with Governance Now for seven years, reporting on technology, telecom policy, and the social sector.

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