5G auctions are over, but India maybe not be ready to ditch 4G yet

Operators are not ready to give up 4G yet. Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), the state-owned telecom latecomer, is slated to offer 4G services later this year. "BSNL's 4G prepaid plans are projected to be less expensive than those offered by commercial telcos.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

5G networks are slowly but steadily covering the world. And although the lightning speeds promised to us do not always turn out to be such in practice, we can still expect some changes. 

The benefits that 5G provides in terms of faster upload and download speeds, higher bandwidth, and very low latency mean you might want to go online using a 5G connection rather than a regular broadband connection at home. But, it appears 5G may not replace 4G on your mobile phones yet.

“5G will not completely replace 4G in India at least over the next five years as the latter is already the dominant network technology in the country and will continue to play a significant role for some more years even after the launch of 5G. The success and expansion of 5G in India will depend on multiple factors, including pricing plans, coverage and availability of 5G smartphones,” says Kantipudi Pradeepthi, Telecom Research Analyst at GlobalData.

Aside from network domination, 4G speeds in India have grown as operators have deployed more spectrum resources following spectrum auctions in March of last year. “The additional airwaves operators have acquired in this year’s spectrum auction will also help them boost their network capacity and improve speeds further,” says Kantipudi.

Operators are not ready to give up 4G yet. Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), the state-owned telecom latecomer, is slated to offer 4G services later this year. “BSNL’s 4G prepaid plans are projected to be less expensive than those offered by commercial telcos,” forecasts Kantipudi. 

4G services will also have a significant subscriber base in India’s rural hinterland over the next five years as operators continue to expand and improve their 4G network to these markets. 

The consumer’s point of view

5G coverage in your area will, of course, be critical. If the coverage is good, then download speeds of up to a gigabit per second are quite possible, which can be significantly better than the best fibre or cable broadband options available to you at home. But 5G has a weak point – the frequency range (and line of sight for the fastest millimetre bands). If you are some distance from the tower, 5G may not be for you.

A house full of computers, smart TVs and smart speakers will undoubtedly generate much more data than a 5G mobile phone. 5G connectivity should be enough to handle the extra load even in densely populated areas, but the question is whether full 5G coverage will be available at your address.

Another important point is if the Indian consumer is ready to replace 4G mobile phones and buy 5G modems when they have already invested in 4G. 

“India is ready for 5G service adoption because it already has a strong install base of 5G enabled smartphones, which has been widely reported to have crossed 50 million in the country, says Kantipudi, adding that the most popular brands like Apple, OnePlus, Redmi, Xiaomi, Realme and Samsung among others are already retailing their 5G-centric smartphones in the market with attractive discounts. “For instance, OnePlus 10T, Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4 and Vivo V25 Pro, among other 5G smartphone devices, are scheduled for launch in India in August 2022, she says.

Operator readiness

India’s largest mobile operator Jio claims it is completely prepared for 5G rollout in the shortest possible time because of its statewide fibre footprint, all-IP network with no legacy infrastructure, indigenous 5G stack, and strong global collaborations throughout the technology ecosystem. 

But the fact is that India faces a significant challenge in the 5G rollout because of low tower fiberization. The telecom department’s statistics state that there are just 0.7 million telecom towers and 2.3 million base transceiver stations, and concerning backhaul fiberization, less than 35% of sites are fiberized as of March 2022. The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) bats for fiberization and says that at least 70% of the towers should have fibre connectivity for the potential 5G services. “On the industry side, operators are investing in fibre infrastructure and increasing their Capital Expenditure (CAPEX) to about INR 0.45 trillion to reach 70% tower fiberization by 2024,” says the GlobalData analyst. 

Reliance Jio purchased spectrum in the 700MHz, 800MHz, 1800MHz, 3300MHz, and 26GHz bands for INR 88,075 crore in the recent auctions held by the Government of India’s Department of Telecommunications. This spectrum can assist the telecom operator in developing a cutting-edge 5G network and wireless broadband access. As previously said, it is the only business in a position to launch 5G very soon. But ‘how soon is soon’ the company did not tell.

Bharti Airtel, India’s second-largest telecom provider, purchased 19,800 MHz spectrum in the recent 5G spectrum auction for Rs 43,084 million. For the past 20 years, the spectrum bands 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 3300 MHz, and 26 GHz have been obtained by auction. The operator plans to launch the 5G services starting from the major cities. As per the company statement, the launch of 5G will aid Airtel in bolstering its Enterprise segment and enable a plethora of industrial use cases, further strengthening Airtel’s leadership in the B2B market.

Bharti Airtel, India’s second-largest telecom carrier, paid Rs 43,084 million for 19,800 MHz spectrum in the last 5G spectrum auction. The spectrum bands 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 3300 MHz, and 26 GHz have been purchased by auction during the last 20 years. The operator intends to begin launching 5G services in major cities. According to the official statement by the company, the launch of 5G would help Airtel boost its Enterprise sector and allow a multitude of industrial use cases, further enhancing Airtel’s position in the B2B market.

Vodafone Idea (Vi) paid Rs. 18,799 crores for spectrum in the 3300MHz and 26GHz 5G bands in the 5G auction and extra 4G spectrum in three circles in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Punjab. The operator’s long-term goal is to expand its 4G footprint and begin a 5G rollout in the country. The primary goal of Vi is to work with business clients and partners to prioritize and build 5G use cases for real-world deployments.

The new bloke in the spectrum town – Adani 

Those who were rubbing their hands with glee, hoping for free 5G internet services for a year, like it was in the case of the Jio rollout, are in for a disappointment. 

“Adani’s Group is likely to compete in the 5G B2B services segment with the new spectrum that it has acquired in the 2022 5G spectrum auction that ended yesterday, i.e. 01 Aug 2022,” said Kantipudi. 

Adani Group has already stated its intent to participate in the 5G spectrum sale in order to deliver private network solutions as well as increased cyber security at airports, ports and logistics, power production, distribution, and industrial activities. It further noted that the corporation has no intentions to enter the consumer mobility market at this time. The Group also limited its bidding circles to Gujarat, Mumbai, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Rajasthan, where it has an airport and commercial port potential. The company is also anticipated to licence its 5G airwaves to other businesses interested in establishing their own private networks.


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