For two generations after the cellular wireless revolution began, technology was controlled by European and US companies —Ericsson, Alcatel, Nokia, and the US firm Lucent. They defined and built the technology foundations, licensed it to whoever they saw fit, and earned handsome royalties from around the world. It was a very good game to play.
The Korean company Samsung entered the fray with 3G wireless. The Chinese firms Huwavei and ZTE joined with 4G technology. An Indian company is now preparing to join this exclusive group with 5G technology.
WiSig Networks was set up in 2015 inside Indian Institute of Technology in Hyderabad to develop technologies for 5G wireless. Kiran Kuchi, professor of electrical engineering at IIT Hyderabad, had been working for seven years on the technology for 5G. It is a tough job to break into the exclusive wireless club, but WiSig struck gold recently.
A Dallas-based company gave a contract worth $1 million to WiSig for developing base station software. “There is no ay companies can hire people in large numbers in the West to do R&D,” says Kuchi.
A good engineer with five years of experience can command $250,000 a year as salary, and product development in foundational areas would need as many as 100 people.
This contract breathed new life into the company. A year ago, WiSig had an investment of `1 crore and employed five people. It now employs 40 people, the core of whom came from IIT Hyderabad. Three years ago, it tested on IIT Hyderabad campus a key 5G technology called massive MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output).
This week, WiSig will demonstrate it with 48 antennas at the 5G conference in Mumbai.
Transmission using 48 antennas at the same time has not been demonstrated in the world so far.
The cloud radio that WiSig developed, which enables processing signals from all antennas together, was a fundamental advance for the company. “Cloud radio is one of the innovations of 5G,” says Kumar Sivarajan, chief technology officer of Tejas Networks. “In cloud radio WiSig was ahead of others.”
WiSig had got financial support from government programmes, especially the Telecom Ministry and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY). It has one competitor less from last week, as ZTE has shut down after US sanctions. With substantial intellectual property in terms of patents, WiSig is in a position to take the place of ZTE and influence the development of 5G technology.