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Bharti Airtel taps up IBM for enterprise edge compute services

As India finally enters the 5G era, Bharti Airtel is keen to push on with an accompanying edge deployment.

The telco has partnered with IBM to roll out its enterprise edge computing platform across its Nxtra-branded footprint of edge locations, of which there are more than 120 spread across more than 65 cities. The platform is based on IBM Cloud Satellite, the tech giant’s hybrid cloud portfolio, which incorporates its Red Hat unit’s OpenShift platform-as-a-service (PaaS) suite. Once deployed, Airtel will be able to offer enterprises secure, open cloud services that span public, private and hybrid environments.

India’s public cloud market is expected to grow rapidly over the coming years. IDC predicted in May that the market – which encompasses PaaS as well as infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and software-as-a-service (SaaS) – is expected to turn over $13.5 billion in 2026, compared to $4.6 billion in 2021.

India’s biggest car maker Maruti Suzuki has already signed up to use Airtel’s platform. The company, which produced 468,000 vehicles in its most recent quarter, intends to roll out edge-based AI and analytics software in an effort to improve the accuracy and efficiency of quality inspections on the factory floor.

“At Maruti Suzuki, we continuously strive to meet the highest quality standards by ensuring our processes and quality control are well above industry standards,” said Rajesh Uppal, senior executive director of HR and IT at Maruti Suzuki, in a statement on Wednesday. “Technology is a key enabler in this journey, helping boost quality, efficiency and deliver the next-gen user experience. We are excited to work with Airtel Business and IBM to set an even higher benchmark and explore the vast possibilities of deploying AI and analytics at the edge to augment the expertise of our workforce.”

The rollout of Airtel’s IBM-powered edge platform will go hand-in-hand with the telco’s 5G deployment. After years of wrangling, India’s government finally completed its first 5G spectrum auction in August, raising a whopping $19 billion in total. Airtel accounted for $5.5 billion of that sum, bagging itself frequencies in the 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 3300 MHz and 26 GHz bands.

Before the dust even settled, Airtel was keen to get going, declaring it would commence its 5G network deployment that same month, with Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung chosen to supply the kit. On an earnings call less than a week later, the telco’s MD Gopal Vittal reportedly said the plan is to cover 5,000 towns by March 2024.

Despite being late to the party, India’s 5G market is expected to catch up rapidly with the rest of the world. According to Ericsson’s Mobility Report in June, by 2027, India is expected to account for more than 10 percent of global 5G connections, with the number of subscriptions standing at around 500 million.

“As India gears up to experience 5G, we see a massive opportunity to help businesses across industries transform how they deliver goods and services,” said Ganesh Lakshminarayanan, CEO of Enterprise at Airtel Business, on Wednesday. “We have the largest network of edge data centres available in India under the Nxtra brand and we will leverage our work with IBM to help Indian businesses address their critical business needs with greater efficiency, making it significantly easier for companies to process workloads where their data resides.”

 

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