India has always been lagging in wireless technology adoption when compared to the rest of the world. 3G services got launched in India in 2008, nearly 6 years after it was launched in countries like the US and Japan.
India was quick enough to jump into the 4G bandwagon – 4G mobile services were launched in India in 2014, roughly 4 years since it was launched in countries like the US.
The ubiquity of 4G services in metros paved the way for mass adoption of smartphones and the growth of services such as Ola, Swiggy, and PayTM. Globally, there is a lot of expectations around 5G use cases and India isn’t an exception.
The article will provide details on the preparedness of the government, service providers, and the technology vendors for the launch of 5G services in India.
When is the government auctioning the 5G spectrum?
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has started the process for auctioning the 5G spectrum in India. The auction was initially planned for the 2nd half of 2019. However, it got postponed to 2020 – and because of COVID-19, it is now scheduled to happen during the 1st half of 2021.
The government published it’s National Digital Communications Policy 2018 and also allocated 5 billion Indian rupees ($77 million) to 5G development – parts of this fund will go towards setting up labs around the country and involve researchers, students, and teachers from the five Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT). Ericsson is partnering with IITs to set up this infrastructure, as part of the “5G for India” program.
Do the service providers in India have the money for the 5G launch?
The launch of 5G in India would require several billions of dollars investment for building the infrastructure and to acquire the spectrum. Do the service providers in India have so much cash in hand or do they have the muscle to get into additional debt to fund their 5G dreams? That’s a big question that the service providers have to answer.
Since the launch of Reliance Jio services in 2016, the telecom sector has been under stress – there are mounting debts on one side and Jio’s low-cost Internet services have left a huge dent in other service providers’ profitability.
Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI), in its annual report for FY18, has noted that the telecom operators are in severe financial distress with a cumulative debt of Rs 7.7 lakh crore.
To top it off, there is a huge consolidation happening in the industry – Aircel went bankrupt; Reliance Communications sold its wireless infrastructure assets to Reliance Jio; Tata Teleservices and Telenor sold their assets to Airtel; Vodafone and Idea Cellular merged to form Vodafone Idea Limited. Now, the fight is between Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea, Reliance Jio, and BSNL.
In December 2018, these service providers along with the network equipment vendors such as Huawei, Samsung, Ericsson, and Nokia approached the Department of Telecommunications (DOT) to conduct 5G trials in multiple parts of the country.
Reliance Jio is the only operator who has adequate funds for 5G launch, because of the recent investments of nearly $20 billion from companies like Google and Facebook.
What is the status of the 5G trials in India?
Verizon and AT&T in the US have already launched 5G services. Several operators across the globe have kick-started their 5G deployment journey. In India, 5G trials are in progress.
Anil Jain, BSNL Chief General Manager said BSNL is learning and testing 5G technology on the ground by signing an agreement with several vendors such as Nokia, NTT Advanced Technology.
Bharti Airtel, one of the largest service providers in India, did some 5G trials with Huawei equipment in 2018, at its Network Experience Center in Gurugram. Airtel claims to have achieved speeds of 3 Gbit/s in the 5G test trial.
Reliance Jio partnered with Ericsson to showcase some 5G demos in the recently conducted (Oct 2018) India Mobile Congress event – Jointly, they showcased 5G connected car and Virtual Reality enabled driving using 5G.
Vodafone Idea is upgrading its network infrastructure for 5G launch readiness. Vodafone CTO said the company is developing its 4G network on the basis of elements of 5G architecture and 60 percent of all traffic is currently running on cloud core.
What is the status of 5G mobile phones in India?
Though 5G technology isn’t being looked at powering the mobile devices as part of the initial launch, several vendors are competing to add 5G support to their mobile phones. Qualcomm announced that it’s Snapdragon 855 chipset will have the 5G support. Qualcomm is partnering with companies like ASUS, Google, Samsung, HMD Global, OnePlus, Motorola, Oppo, OnePlus, Vivo, and Xiaomi to launch 5G phones in 2019.
Mobile phones such as the OnePlus 7, Samsung Galaxy S10, and Google Nexus 4, will have the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chipset, with 5G support.
Apple is dependant on Intel’s hardware for the 5G launch. Intel is expected to make its XMM 8160 5G modem available during the 2nd half of 2019. And hence, Apple’s iPhone support for 5G may get delayed to 2020.
Reliance Jio is also reportedly working on developing a low-cost smartphone (sub $100) for the masses. Reliance Jio also launched Jio Glass recently, in preparation for 5G networks.
(Also read: Status of 5G mobile phones)
What are the 5G use cases that are relevant to India?
In India, the 5G launch will immensely help in the deployment/adoption of Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) services in public places such as railway stations, airports, and even in trains/buses. The launch of fixed wireless services would help the service providers to cut down their operational costs in providing broadband services.
Virtual Reality / Augmented Reality related use cases may gain popularity among youngsters. Use cases such as Smart Cars are still far away from adoption in India. However, with the government’s push on Smart Cities, some of the IOT related use cases would get benefited from the 5G launch.
When will the 5G services be launched in India?
Several service providers across the globe are actively rolling out 5G based commercial services. 5G services in India are going to be launched as late as 2021 or in 2022. TRAI Secretary said in a recent CII event that “The telecom sector will move to 5G by 2022 and access to digital platform will become highly advanced in the next five years“.
Thank you for reading!