With 5G-capable smartphones rolling out already, it is quite evident the fifth-generation high-speed network is a few months away from being introduced in India.
Currently, two telecom giants in the forefront to bring 5G to Indian consumers – Reliance Jio and Bharati Airtel, both are racing against each other to take the early mover advantage.
On Thursday, leapfrogging Reliance Jio by a step, Bharti announced that they have successfully conducted on-field trails in Hyderabad to establish the ability of 5G and in turn became the first telecom service provider to demonstrate its 5G network capability before the rollout of the service country-wide.
Chairman of Reliance Industries Ltd., Ambani, in July last year claimed that they have built an indigenous 5G solution and will be ready to launch their service by the second half of 2021, but since then it didn’t share any updates about its progress.
Now, on the other hand, if Airtel, after their recent trials, is able to run 5G over its existing commercial network then it will be a big win for India’s third-largest telecom provider as they spent the last few years playing catch-up with Mukesh Ambani’s Jio in terms of offerings and customer base.
Gopal Vital, CEO – Bharti Airtel, in a press conference, said that their demonstration validates the fact that Airtel is the first 5G-ready telco which can deploy the same across all domains – be it radio, core or transport.
Spectrum Sale – The Deciding Factor
The trials and testing apart, the biggest deciding factor and roadblock for the telco to do a full-fledged 5G roll out is adequate spectrum availability.
According to Bharti, their 5G technology has the capability of delivering 10x better performance on speeds and latency over existing technology but it will be made available to their customers only when the government approvals are received and sufficient spectrum is made available.
The Department of telecommunications aka DoT will be conducted the auction of 2,251MHz of the spectrum at a reserve price of ₹3.92 trillion from 1 March 2021. But, within the upcoming auction, the government didn’t include 3,300-3,600 MHz bands which are recommended by the telecom regulator for 5G.
This is primarily due to the fact that the demand for the same is supposedly still weak as various concerns remain over the overall readiness of the two or three of the largest telcos in the country to buy radio airwaves at the high reserve prices.
Mahesh Uppal, a senior telecom expert, said that the commercial deployment of 5G depends on the access to the 5G spectrum but the auction for the same is nowhere in sight in the near future.
He further mentioned that the GOI wants to first establish that there exists adequate interest in buying 5G spectrum and only then go ahead with the auction and thus currently the overall 5G ecosystem is still weak.
Airtel vs Jio: Different Plans For 5G
All in all, both Bharati Airtel and Reliance Jio are racing to be the first but it is the GOI which will ultimately determine how soon 5G will roll out in India. Airtel is more eager to deploy the capability to its existing consumer base of 334.6 million, but Reliance Jio has other plans.
While Jio has planned to upgrade their 408.2 million customers first, with the rollout of 5G services Ambani is hoping to make India 2G-mukt.
In other words, Reliance Jio wants to reach out to the consumers who are still on the old 2G network and upgrade them directly to the superior 5G. The Ambani-led telco, in order to accomplish this, is reportedly working on a 5G smartphone which will be priced at a mere Rs. 2500-3000 a unit when it hits the market in H2 2021.
5G In India: No Exception
The race to dominate 5G space has begun worldwide and India is no exception. It’s estimated that by 2023 there would be 5.03 billion active smartphone users worldwide, and 43% of those would be using 5G-ready devices. Undoubtedly it’s a huge number and completely untapped market which is posing a big opportunity for all telco providers worldwide. In India, neither Jio nor Airtel want to big out the bus and leaving no stone unturned to grab the biggest chunk of the pie.
In contrast, few reports indicate that the initial response 5G in India may not that encouraging for telecoms. The recent Ericsson Mobility Report claims that India will have only 18 million active 5G smartphone users by 2025. A country with 1.3 billion population and nearly 50% of those using smartphone such figures are highly disappointing.
The recent developments, however, indicate that situation may be completely different than what is being projected by the aforementioned research report. The aggressive expansion plan and push by telecom companies will create a great pressure on the government to expedite the rollout of 5G services in India. As smartphone manufacturers in India are also armed with 5G capable devices, the adoption of 5G would be much faster and beat the recent projections.
Now, it remains to be seen, which amid the both will finally dominate the 5G space. Only the future can tell if Bharati Airtel will roll out 5G before Jio and utilise the first-mover’s advantage or Reliance Jio will end up recreating the magic similar to when it first rolled out 4G in India. We will keep you updated on all future developments. Until then, stay tuned.