With talks of “timely” 5G roll out in India resurfacing again after a Covid-hit year that delayed spectrum auction, there are hopes that the fifth-generation cellular technology could be a reality in the second half of the year, even though various reports suggest that its mass adoption could still be years away.
The government is not selling traditional 5G spectrum in the upcoming auction the bidding for which will commence in March, but a tweak in the notice inviting applications has raised hope that companies will be able to launch 5G even on existing bands.
The amendment reduced the notice time period required for telecom companies to give to make advancements and upgrades in technology from one year to six months.
Telecom major Bharti Airtel on January 28 successfully demonstrated live 5G service on a use case basis over a commercial network in Hyderabad city over its existing liberalised spectrum in the 1800 MHz band through the NSA (non-standalone) network technology – that is, fall back on 4G network.
Reliance Industries (RIL) Chairman Mukesh Ambani last month said that Reliance Jio will pioneer India’s “5G Revolution” in the second half of 2021.
“We should see some soft launches in the later part of second half this year,” Neil Shah, Vice President of Research at Counterpoint Research, a global industry analysis firm, told IANS.
“The device ecosystem is ready unlike in 4G or 3G era as we are seeing average selling price (ASP) of the 5G devices already hitting sub $150 or Rs 10,000 mark in markets like China from players such as Realme, Xiaomi and others in just 12-18 months of 5G rollouts,” he said.
The first quarter of 2020 witnessed the launch of the first 5G-ready smartphone in India.
At the end of Q3 2020, India’s 5G handsets shipments stood at 1.7 million, a number which was projected to cross four million by the end of 2020, according to Counterpoint.
“So there is an option of using technologies such as dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS) to use 4G spectrum for 5G but we expect government to auction off 3.5GHz mid band spectrum this year,” Shah said.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has already recommended for the auction of spectrum in 3,300-3,600 MHz bands.
However, several reports have suggested that mass adoption of 5G would not be immediate.
According to a forecast by GSMA Intelligence, published in October 2020, 5G connections in India will reach six per cent of total population by 2025 -7.2 crore — and 93 per cent by 2040.
Swedish gear maker Ericsson in a report in November 2020 said that 5G subscriptions in India will surpass 350 million, accounting for 27 per cent of all mobile subscriptions in 2026.
While globally, more than one billion people were estimated to have access to 5G coverage by the end of 2020, according to the “Ericsson Mobility Report.”
According to the Ookla 5G Map, the number of countries with 5G deployments increased 62.3 per cent between Q3 2019 and Q3 2020, with 99 countries having 5G deployments at the end of the third quarter of 2020.
Ericsson, however, said that it is 5G ready and is prepared to help Indian operators to roll out the technology once the spectrum is made available.
“Today, Ericsson works with all the leading communication service providers in the country, partnering with them in connecting India. Our Radio System hardware has been 5G-ready since 2015 thus, enabling operators to upgrade to 5G with just a remote software installation when the roll out begins,” Head of Ericsson India Nitin Bansal told IANS.
“Further, the telecom equipment that Ericsson supplies to Indian telecom service providers are made in India and we are also exporting 5G radios to other markets from our facility in Pune,” he said.
While security is a major concern in 5G roll out, participation of vendors like Huawei and ZTE in building India’s 5G infrastructure could also play a role in faster adoption of the technology in the country.
(Gokul Bhagabati can be contacted at [email protected])
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