By Newley Purnell
Ankit Agarwal and his fellow executives at India-based telecom products firm Sterlite Technologies Ltd. STLTECH -3.10% decided a few years ago that 5G was the future—and that they wanted to capitalize on it.
Already global players in producing fiber-optic cables for use in 4G wireless networks, Mr. Agarwal and his team realized that the building of 5G networks not only demands more fiber, helping their core business. It also provides an opportunity to offer the kind of specialized, relatively low-cost building blocks of telecom networks that bigger companies might not focus on.
So Sterlite developed a signal extender to help companies connect mobile devices and computers in indoor spaces, far from telecom towers, to 5G networks. The new device, which resembles a soccer-ball-size flying saucer, can be installed in 30 minutes, and multiple units can be positioned in offices or across company campuses where obstructions might interfere with 5G reception.
Known as an indoor small cell, Sterlite’s device is based on “open RAN,” or open radio access network, standards that allow customers to mix and match network components from various vendors. That allows them to compare various options by price and gives them flexibility in buying equipment amid the global fight among the U.S. and other countries and China’s Huawei Technologies Inc., which has restricted the availability of some products in some countries.
The price of the Sterlite devices hasn’t been disclosed, but some are already being used in trials. The company is eyeing markets across Europe and the U.S. for now, with the potential to target developing nations when they get closer to embracing 5G.
Sterlite’s device faces competition from several other makers of indoor small cells in a growing market. Research firm Analysys Mason estimates that the market for such devices is growing at a compound annual rate of 15% and will hit $5 billion in the next four years.
“Everybody and his brother is doing the macro,” or equipment for large telecom towers, when it comes to 5G, says Badri Gomatam, Sterlite’s group chief technology officer. But Sterlite saw an opportunity at the level of individual businesses, he says.
Mr. Agarwal, who grew up in India and received an undergraduate degree in business from the University of Southern California and an M.B.A. from the London Business School, is Sterlite’s chief executive for connectivity solutions. He says he is thinking ahead to solutions for his home country, where most of the 1.3 billion population lives in rural areas.
“We may not have driverless cars in India” for some time—or ever—he says, smiling. “But maybe we can have driverless tractors for farmers working in 45 degree Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) temperatures.”
SOURCE : WALL STREET JOURNAL