Is India ready for 5G? | Daily News Byte


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Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the stage at the Indian Mobile Congress (IMC) 2022 to officially inaugurate 5G services in the country. Fifth generation wireless (5G) is the latest iteration of cellular technology, designed to increase the speed of wireless networks. According to Ericsson’s November 2022 Mobility Report, 5G subscriptions in the India region are expected to reach around 690 million by the end of 2028.


Reliance Jio and Airtel have rolled out 5G service in 50 cities and towns across India. However, even if your region is covered by the 5G rollout, you have to work like a trojan to experience it… Why? A report by CRISIL Research indicates that the telecom industry would need an investment of INR 1.5-2.5 trillion over the next two-three years in infrastructure development to facilitate the rollout of 5G services.

Lack of infrastructure

One of the top criteria for a flawless 5G experience is the fiberization level. Optical fibers are used for high-performance data networking in telecommunications services, such as the Internet, television, and telephones. By June 2022, the fiberization level in India was 35.11 percent against the ideal requirement of 70 percent for launching 5G services.

“Apart from telecom operators using 5G spectrum, solid investment in fiber transmission capabilities has become equally important,” said Mahendra Nahata, Managing Director, HFCL.

To speed up the rollout, the government has provided backhaul frequency to upgrade the telecom tower infrastructure. 5G backhaul refers to the signal between the 5G core and remote sites or networks. Backhaul usually means a high-capacity line, capable of transmitting high bandwidth at very high speeds.

“Currently, we do not have enough infrastructure to support seamless 5G network connectivity.” India would need another 18-24 months to reach the 80 percent level of fiberization that would help ensure seamless network connectivity. Additionally, for seamless indoor coverage, we need a lot of small cell infrastructure deployment which can be done using street furniture,” said Nishant Bansal, senior research manager, telecom insights, Asia-Pacific, IDC, adding that the network has been launched but it can be experienced in limited pockets due to lack of infrastructure.

“Although the government has awarded 5G backhaul to telcos, there is a lot to be done and the process would take time,” said a senior research manager.

Bharti Airtel and Jio have chosen Ericsson as their partner to deploy 5G networks in the country. “With our experience of deploying 5G in more than 50 countries, we look forward to the opportunity to help our partners make a smooth transition to 5G,” said Nunzio Mirtillo, Head of Market Area Southeast Asia, Oceania and India, Ericsson.

“As 5G is rolled out in India, we are ramping up production of our 5G telecom equipment in Pune in phases to support the network deployment of Indian telecom service providers,” Mirtillo added.

Source: Ericsson Mobility Report November 2022

Jio v/s Airtel

Reliance Jio is deploying the latest version of 5G, called stand-alone 5G, which is independent of the 4G network. With stand-alone 5G, it claims to deliver new and powerful services such as low-latency connectivity, massive machine-to-machine communication, 5G voice, edge computing, network slicing and the metaverse.

At the same time, non-standalone 5G is essentially a 5G radio signal delivered over existing 4G infrastructure. It uses a new 5G radio access network overlaid on the existing 4G LTE network core. With Airtel 5G Plus, the company claims to deliver 30 times faster data speeds than on Airtel 4G. A stand alone network can only be provided by Jio as it has bought the 700 MHz band.

“700 MHz helps build a cost-effective 5G network because the low frequency leads to wider coverage, and also has the bonus of a high threshold for interference: it can penetrate buildings.” So, Jio will always have an added edge in the case by providing seamless internal connectivity,” Bansal said, adding that the standalone network provides ultra-low latency, high speed and real-time communication, which gives it an added edge.

As many as 20,980 base station services have been installed in 14 states and union territories till November 26 this year, Minister of State for Communications Devusing Chauhan told Parliament.

In a written reply to a question by BJP Rajya Sabha member Sushil Kumar Modi on 5G towers, the minister said that telecom service providers (TSPs) on an average install about 2,500 base stations per week. The highest number of 5G base stations were installed in Delhi 5,829 (938 Airtel, 4,891 Reliance Jio), followed by Maharashtra where a total of 4,051 base stations were installed.

Growing subscription

According to Ericsson’s Mobility Report, Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) will be the main use case in India. Meanwhile, 4G continues to be the dominant subscription type driving connectivity growth. 4G subscriptions in India are expected to peak in 2024 at around 930 million, and from there decline to an estimated 570 million by 2028. Aggressive deployment of 5G by service providers, coupled with the growing affordability and availability of 5G smartphones, should be visible. 5G subscriptions in the Indian region (India, Nepal, Bhutan) reach about 31 million by the end of 2022 and 690 million by the end of 2028. 5G will represent about 53 percent of mobile subscriptions in the region by the end of 2028. The total number of mobile subscriptions in India is estimated to grow to 1.3 billion in 2028.

The smartphone factor

Even when 5G services were rolled out in India, the incompatibility of smartphones to catch up with the fastest network was a cause of concern for several smartphone manufacturers. Existing 5G enabled smartphones did not match the 5G frequency bands in India. This means that the phone had the necessary hardware needed to connect to a 5G network, but the smartphone manufacturer had to deliver the relevant software updates to connect to these networks. With 29 percent of the total 37 million smartphone shipments in the June quarter being 5G phones, 5G is believed to become the fastest-adopting mobile technology.

“Even as more people in India adopt a digitally enabled lifestyle, the country’s market will emerge as one of the largest and fastest growing in terms of digital consumer population.” From 2022, 5G penetration will increase year by year, resulting in increased sales of 5G smartphones in India. According to an analysis by Deloitte, smartphone demand in India is expected to grow and generate a projected total shipment of 1.7 billion smartphones creating a $250 billion market, of which over 840 million 5G phones are likely to be sold over the next five years. Peeyush Vaish, Partner and Telecom Sector Leader, Deloitte India said.

“The hasty rollout of 5G in the country has left smartphone manufacturers unprepared as they needed more time to optimize everything for a seamless 5G experience for smartphone users. “Manufacturers would benefit more from a soft launch, which would give them more time to fine-tune the product and better manage their consumers’ expectations,” Vaish added.

Sharing a similar view, Navkendar Singh, an analyst at IDC, said, “A soft launch followed by a final launch a few months later would help avoid such inconvenience for consumers.

Challenges abound

Indian service providers are raising the price of data (the average cost of 1GB of mobile data will reach $0.68 in 2021), and mobile revenue is growing. Despite this, the provider’s average revenue per user (ARPU) remains low. Moreover, India has some of the highest spectrum prices in the world. “This limits the ability of service providers to invest in infrastructure.” With the projected increase in traffic, service providers would benefit significantly from the efficiency gains provided by 5G,” according to Ericsson’s Mobility Report, published in June 2022.

According to IDC findings, in countries where 5G was launched, telcos did not charge a premium over 4G. India has one of the lowest ARPUs in the world. Telecom companies argue that ARPUs need to grow in order to generate decent revenue that could be used to build the infrastructure to support a 5G network. “Initially, telcos will not charge a premium for 5G services. However, in the long term, telcos will increase ARPU, but it would be across and not just in case of 5G,” Bansal said, adding that data consumption will be more in case of 5G.

Reliance Jio emerged as the top bidder for the 5G auction held in August. Reliance Jio spent INR 88,078 crore and got a total of 24.7 GHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 1800 MHz, 3300 MHz and 26 GHz bands. India’s second largest telco Bharti Airtel has forked out INR 43,084 crore to pick up 19.867 GHz of spectrum in the 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 3300 MHz and 26 GHz bands. Vodafone Idea spent around INR 18,799 crore, taking 6.228 GHz of airwaves in the 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 2500 MHz, 3300 MHz and 26 GHz bands.


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