Underlining the need for “timely rollout of 5G to leapfrog into the future and empower millions of Indians”, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told captains of the telecom industry Tuesday that the country “will embark on one of the world’s largest Covid-19 vaccination drive” with the help of mobile technology.
Addressing the inaugural session of the India Mobile Congress, the Prime Minister said: “India is emerging as one of the most preferred destinations for mobile manufacturing. We have also come up with the production linked incentive scheme to promote telecom equipment manufacturing in India.”
“We are embarking on a plan to ensure that over the next three years, every village will have high speed fibre-optic connectivity. We have already linked up the Andaman and Nicobar Islands with fibre optic cable. We are coming out with programmes that focus exclusively on places which can make the best out of such connectivity — aspirational districts, Left wing extremism-affected districts, North Eastern states, Lakshadweep islands etc. We are keen to ensure greater spread of fixed line broadband connectivity and public wi-fi hotspots.”
Declaring that “the future that lies ahead will make the present system appear primitive”, Modi said “it is important to think and plan how do we improve lives with the upcoming technology revolution. Better healthcare, better education, better information and opportunities for our farmers, better market access for small businesses are some of the goals we can work towards”.
“It is due to your innovation and efforts that the world was functional despite the pandemic. It is due to your efforts that a son connected with his mother in a different city, a student learnt from his teacher without being in the classroom, a patient consulted his doctor from his home, a trader connected with a consumer from a different geography,” he said.
Spotlight on auction
Jio’s announcement will return the spotlight on auction of 5G airwaves in India. The Rs 5.22 lakh crore auction reserve price had drawn sharp reactions from Airtel and Vodafone Idea, already under pressure over their AGR dues following the Supreme Court ruling.
“Today, we are a country of a billion plus phone users. Today, we have a billion plus people with unique digital identity. Today, we have over 750 million internet users… Half of the total Internet users in India were added in the last 4 years. Half of the total Internet users are in our rural areas. Our digital size and our digital appetite are unprecedented. We are a country where the tariffs are the lowest in the world. We are one of the fastest growing mobile app market in the world,” he said.
Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, in his address, said the country would soon be 5G ready as “test beds have been created and provisions will be unfolded further”.
Speaking at the inaugural session, RIL chairman Mukesh Ambani called for policy steps to accelerate the rollout of 5G service in the country. He said Reliance Jio Infocomm would be ready to launch the service in the second half of 2021.
“In order to maintain this lead, policy steps are needed to accelerate early rollout of 5G and to make it affordable and available everywhere. I assure you that Jio will pioneer the 5G revolution in India in the second half of 2021. It will be powered by indigenous-developed network, hardware and technology components,” he said.
Ambani also reiterated his demand for limiting the use of 2G mobile telephony services in India and said policy interventions were needed to set free as many as 300 million mobile subscribers still “trapped” in the 2G era.
In July this year, Ambani told the RIL annual general meeting that Jio had designed and developed a completely indigenous 5G solution that was ready for deployment. The technology developed by Jio, he said, would also be exported to other players globally.
5G or fifth generation is the latest upgrade in the long term evolution (LTE) mobile broadband networks. Jio is said to have a complete end-to-end 5G solution ready for deployment once the networks are in place. This solution can also be deployed by other telecom operators as a complete managed service.
Ambani’s plans for launching 5G service by the second half of next year comes even as the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and two other private players, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea (Vi), have been non-committal about their plans for 5G.
The DoT was scheduled to hold a spectrum auction in the early months during this calendar year where it had hoped to allocate some 5G airwaves as well.
On December 20, 2019, the Digital Communications Commission (DCC), the highest executive decision-making body of the DoT, had approved the sale of 8,300 MHz spectra across 22 licensed spectrum access (LSA) or telecom circles. It had then decided to accept all the recommendations made by TRAI, including keeping the reserve price at Rs 5.22 lakh crore.
The auction reserve price drew sharp responses from Bharti Airtel and Vi, both of which were by then under pressure following the ruling on adjusted gross revenue (AGR). In October 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that Bharti Airtel and Vi must pay long-pending AGR dues, the penalty for non-payment over the past years, and the interest on penalty for non-payment. The two companies expressed reservations on the high auction reserve price and said it would not be possible for them to buy the airwaves.