It’s not often that a chip company is pivotal to a telecom operator’s new business line unless the operator bundles hand phones and regular cellular services. The teeny silicon that goes into devices manufactured by specialists is typically outside a telco’s domain.

For once, though, India’s two largest telcos—Reliance Jio Infocomm and Bharti Airtel—are dependent on the world’s two largest mobile chipmakers—US-based Qualcomm and Taiwan-based Mediatek Inc.—to embark on a new market-creating path. The two chipmakers together power 72% of smartphones in India.

In 2022, the two telcos spent spent Reuters Reliance Jio top spender in India's $19 bln 5G spectrum auction Read more  over US$16 billion on procuring 5G spectrum. Now, they are rolling it out in city after city every month. But they are yet to crack lucrative use cases for 5G. Both believe fixed wireless access (FWA) fixed wireless access (FWA) Fixed wireless access 5G FWA is a wireless internet connectivity service that harnesses 5G technology to deliver high-speed internet to stationary locations like homes and offices. Unlike conventional broadband, which depends on physical cables, 5G FWA utilises wireless signals transmitted by cellular towers , or wireless home broadband, is their next frontier. 

Earlier this year, The Ken has learnt, Jio and Airtel floated a request for proposal (RFP) for a few thousand sample 5G-home-broadband devices to some original design manufacturers (ODM), including Taiwan-based Sercomm Corp. The two telcos are likely to announce FWA pilot launches in the coming weeks. Jio even reiterated this during its earnings call during its earnings call Mint Reliance Jio to launch Air Fiber; Profit up 13% to ₹4716 crore in Q4FY23 Read more  in April.

“We have been testing these devices for some time now and will soon launch a pilot rollout,” said a senior executive from one of the two telcos. Following the pilot, telcos may place a large order, upward of 1 million devices, according to people close to the telcos. 

The plan, however, faces a formidable challenge. For devices to see mass adoption in India, the price of these devices must be slashed by half, said the senior telco executive quoted above. And this solely rests on Qualcomm and Mediatek.

At least a dozen telecom executives and analysts that The Ken spoke with did not want to be named because they were not authorised to speak with the media.