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Explained: What is 5G trial, and why is it important for Indian telecom companies?

In the initial phase, these trials will be for 6 months, including a 2-month period for procurement and setting up of the equipment.

Written by Aashish Aryan | New Delhi |
Updated: May 11, 2021 8:43:40 am
The trials will last 6 months for now. (File Photo)

The Department of Telecommunications on Tuesday allowed private telcos Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio Infocomm and Vi (formerly Vodafone Idea) and well as state-run telco Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) to start trials for 5G technology as well as its applications in various sectors. The trials will last for 6 months for now.

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Why are the trials for 5G technology important for telcos?

5G or fifth generation is the latest upgrade in the long-term evolution mobile broadband networks. 5G mainly works in 3 bands, namely low, mid and high-frequency spectrum — all of which have their uses and limitations.

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The telecom market in India is left with only three private telcos, with the rest having surrendered to the low returns on investments over the years. Apart from the private telecommunication companies, the two state-run companies, MTNL and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) have also survived but are making losses.

In order to increase their average revenue per user, it is pertinent for telcos to start offering the new 5G technology as soon as possible. For that, however, they will have to conduct trials in a variety of circumstances, including in semi-urban and rural areas, which remains an untapped market for them.

Apart from the telcos, it is also important that the government be ready to roll out the new technology as soon as possible. A standing committee of Lok Sabha on Information Technology has already flayed the government for delays in approvals, inadequate availability of spectrum, high spectrum prices, poor development of use cases and low status of fiberisation among others. It is due to these reasons, the panel had said, that India could miss the 5G bus.

What will 5G trials in India entail for now?

In the initial phase, these trials will be for 6 months, including a 2 month period for procurement and setting up of the equipment. In these 6 months, telcos will be required to test their set up in urban areas, semi-urban areas as well as rural areas.

During this period, the telcos will be provided with experimental spectrum in various bands, such as the mid-band of 3.2 GHz to 3.67 GHz, the millimeter wave band of 24.25 GHz to 28.5 GHz, and others.

While the low band spectrum has shown great promise in terms of coverage and speed of internet and data exchange, the maximum speed is limited to 100 Mbps (Megabits per second). This means that while telcos can use and install it for commercial cellphone users who may not have specific demands for very high speed internet, the low band spectrum may not be optimal for specialised needs of the industry.

The mid-band spectrum, on the other hand, offers higher speeds compared to the low band, but has limitations in terms of coverage area and penetration of signals. Telcos and companies, which have taken the lead on 5G, have indicated that this band may be used by industries and specialised factory units for building captive networks that can be moulded into the needs of that particular industry.

The high-band spectrum offers the highest speed of all the three bands, but has extremely limited coverage and signal penetration strength. Internet speeds in the high-band spectrum of 5G has been tested to be as high as 20 Gbps (giga bits per second), while, in most cases, the maximum internet data speed in 4G has been recorded at 1 Gbps.

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