Despite assertions from the government that India “cannot afford to miss” the 5G bus indicating that the country will see rollout of the latest generation of mobile telephony along with the world, none of the Indian telecom companies figure in the list of 303 5G deployments by 20 operators in 294 locations across the globe.
“Currently, no limited or commercial deployments have been identified in India. Switzerland leads as the country with the most current 5G deployments in 217 cities, each with commercial availability,” said mobile and broadband network intelligence firm Ookla, which released a map on Wednesday, tracking 5G rollout across the world.
In February last year, mobile company Airtel and Chinese equipment maker Huawei had conducted India’s first 5G trial, during which a user throughput of 3 Gbps was achieved. But not much has moved since.
A committee of the Telecom Ministry recently cleared the proposal to allow Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio to conduct 5G spectrum trial next month onwards for a period of three months. For these trials, equipment vendors Samsung, Nokia and Ericsson have been selected.
However, for a commercial rollout, industry executives have suggested, quick auction of spectrum necessary for 5G deployment. “In India, deliberations are still going on whether to give spectrum for 5G in the 26 GHz and 28 GHz bands. Department of Space does not want spectrum to be given in these bands,” a senior telecom industry official said.
According to another executive, once the trials are concluded, telecom operators will be in a better position to decide on how to participate in the spectrum auctions that are expected to happen later this year. A report by GSM Association last month noted that $1.3 trillion will be spent on mobile networks across all technology generations between 2019 and 2025 — and of this, 75 per cent will be invested on 5G networks.
Telecom companies have also raised red-flags over the pricing of the spectrum as recommended by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). The sector watchdog last August had recommended the auction of 20 MHz blocks of spectrum in the 3,300-3,600 MHz band — considered ideal for 5G — at Rs 492 crore per MHz. Whereas the same band was priced at around Rs 131 crore per MHz in auctions held in South Korea in June.
A panel set up by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) in September 2017 to prepare a roadmap for rollout of 5G in India submitted its suggestions in August last year saying that it expected the technology to be operational in the country by 2020. The nine-member Steering Committee, headed by AJ Paulraj, also recommended releasing additional spectrum for 5G services.
The report prepared by the committee noted that 5G services would have cumulative economic impact of more than $1 trillion by 2035.