Indian operator Bharti Airtel selected Cisco to prepare its core network for the launch of 5G services and serve growing demand for high-speed data services in the country.

Under a new multi-year agreement, the vendor said it will build a 100G IP and optical integrated network, which will be the largest “IP over Ethernet over fibre” network in the country.

The brownfield deployment, which features a software-defined platform, integrates the vendor’s IP and optical equipment along with segment routing to more easily extend services in rural communities, while significantly improving network availability and creating cost efficiencies, Cisco said in a statement.

Telecoms analysts say integrating IP and optical removes a layer from the network, theoretically speeding things up and simplifying management.

Randeep Sekhon, Airtel CTO, said: “Our ongoing collaboration with Cisco is critical in helping us to be 5G-ready, collapsing multiple legacy domains to build a flatter, simpler and automated network with more bandwidth to support internet services.”

Over the past three years, Airtel dropped from market leader to the third-largest mobile player in India by subscribers as it faced a fierce price war with Reliance Jio, and is looking to attract and retain customers by maintaining the quality of its network as data usage soars and it prepares to launch 5G services.

The government plans to hold a 5G spectrum auction later in the year.

In January , Airtel applied to the Department of Telecommunications to conduct 5G trials using RAN gear from Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia and ZTE.