At long last: India Telecom Minister gives go ahead for 5G trials

India’s telecom minister has met with the major mobile network operators and invited them to start testing their 5G services. The government also confirmed that Chinese network infrastructure equipment vendors Huawei and ZTE would be allowed to participate in the trials.

The meeting was chaired by telecom secretary Anshu Prakash and was attended by senior representatives of Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea, Reliance Jio and all equipment vendors, including Huawei, reports Live Mint.  Indian television channel CNBC-TV18 reported the news first, citing a senior official. The trials will be held in January, according to the official, the channel reported.

India’s department of telecom expects to allocate spectrum soon (we’ve heard that before?) for trials, which should begin in Q1-2020, ahead of plans for a spectrum auction no later than April 2020.

India Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said earlier that 5G spectrum for trials would be available to all wireless network equipment (base station) vendors.  In particular, he told reporters in India earlier this week:

“5G trials will be done with all vendors and operators.  We have taken an in-principle decision to give 5G spectrum for trials.” On being asked specifically about Huawei, Prasad said that at this stage, all vendors are invited.

                              India Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad


The Indian government believes the trials, which were originally supposed to be held in 2019, will help in the development of the country’s 5G ecosystem. The Indian telcos will be conducting 5G tests with different vendors: Bharti Airtel plans to conduct trials with Nokia, Huawei and Ericsson, while Vodafone Idea wants to partner with Ericsson and Huawei. Reliance Jio, which currently works primarily with Samsung, has applied to conduct 5G tests with the South Korean vendor.

With many nations already on 5G, industry divided over trials

A senior executive at one vendor said the trials should have begun a year ago and now that global testing is over, it does not make sense to start from scratch in India, especially with the auction of 5G airwaves slated for March-April.


India’s telcos have been asking for clarity from the government regarding the participation of both Chinese vendors in 5G activities. Initially only a handful of vendors, including Cisco, Ericsson, NEC, Nokia and Samsung, received invitations to participate in the 5G trials.

The decision was welcomed by Huawei India in a statement, as well as comments from the Chinese ambassador in India on Twitter. Huawei is already active in the country, where it has deployed 4G networks for Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea.

The inclusion in India’s 5G trials is of particular significance for Huawei, which faces trading restrictions in several countries, including Australia, New Zealand and the US, because of security concerns. The US has been lobbying the Indian government to exclude Huawei from the 5G market but, equally, China has been lobbying for Huawei and ZTE to be given equal opportunities in India’s 5G market.

The efforts of the US authorities to restrict Huawei’s business had an impact on the vendor’s sales in 2019, though with expected full-year revenues of almost $122 billion it is still by far the largest supplier of telecoms infrastructure globally and the number two player in the smartphone market.

During the past few years, Chinese vendors have provided crucial support to India’s service providers as they attempted to manage their costs and keep tariffs under control. Chinese network equipment is cheaper than the equivalent offerings from Western rivals, enabling traditional telcos to offer services in a market with one of the lowest average revenue per user (ARPU) figures in the world.

The exclusion of Huawei and ZTE from forthcoming 5G deals would almost certainly result in an increase in capital expenditure by India’s telcos: Sunil Bharti Mittal, the chairman of Bharti Enterprises, the parent company of Airtel, spoke out in support of Huawei during a recent event organized by World Economic Forum, stating that Huawei’s equipment was superior to that of its main European rivals, Ericsson and Nokia.

“Glad to know all players got equal chance to participate in 5G trial in India. A welcome move conducive to initiatives like Digital India,” said Chinese Ambassador Sun Weidong in a social media message.



5 thoughts on “At long last: India Telecom Minister gives go ahead for 5G trials

  1. With many nations already on 5G, industry divided over trials:

    Vendors argue it’s too late for trials, telcos say India specific use cases are necessary. 5G trials in India were first scheduled for January 2019 but were delayed on modalities such as pricing and tenure. While the US, South Korea and China, among other major countries, are ahead on testing, India has its own set of challenges to addresst’s decision to start 5G trials.

    While telcos say the trials are important to develop local use-cases, some equipment makers say it is too late, considering that over 50 commercial 5G networks have already been rolled out globally and their use-cases can be modified for the South Asian nation.

    A senior executive at one vendor said the trials should have begun a year ago and now that global testing is over, it does not make sense to start from scratch in India, especially with the auction of 5G airwaves slated for March-April.

    “If the government wants us to work on trials, we will, but it is a time-consuming process and we could have started rollouts the moment auctions are done,” said a senior executive at one vendor, who asked not to be identified.

    Mobile phone companies said the trials are still relevant.

    “Yes, it may have helped if trials were allowed a year ago, but it is not too late,” said Rajan Mathews, director general of the Cellular Operators Association of India. “India-specific trials are needed and standards, even globally, are getting finalised. Densification, IoT (Internet of Things), network splitting and other feature functionalities are still getting developed.”

    A senior DoT official said trials can even be held simultaneously with the spectrum auction. “The trials can happen also with the winners of the spectrum auction,” the official added, when asked about the need for 5G trials in India.

    Mathews said it will seven to eight months by the time the auctions get over and spectrum is allotted.

    “Secondly, this is trial spectrum, allotted in some patches and won’t interfere with government’s allotment of actual 5G spectrum once the auctions get over,” he said.

    The government has met operators and vendors such as Ericsson, Nokia and China’s Huawei and ZTE and it has asked the telcos to apply for trials by January 10.

    Trials for 5G services in India were first scheduled for January 2019 but were delayed on modalities such as pricing and tenure. While the US, South Korea and China, among other major countries, are ahead on testing, India has its own set of challenges to address, experts said.

    “While the US is looking into robotic surgery, autonomous cars, drone delivery and flying cars, India’s first priority will be to decongest the network and address call quality issues. Hence, testing is important,” said Hemant Joshi, technology, media and telecommunications leader at Deloitte India.

    Another senior telco executive said 5G spectrum must be checked for suitability and to ensure there is no interference. “Bands need to be tested to indicate the service quality and spot any interference. Vendors will adapt to the software, but testing always helps,” the executive said.

  2. 5G trials to be delayed as Airtel, Jio, Vodafone Idea seek more time to submit proposals with DoT
    5G field trials in India are set to be delayed further with private telcos Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio preparing to write to the telecom department seeking more time beyond the January 10 deadline to submit their respective proposals.

  3. Press Trust of India: 5G spectrum auction should be held after 2-3 years: PHDCCI

    Auction of 5G spectrum should be taken up after 2-3 years, which will help the government get proper valuations of the 5G airwaves, industry body PHDCCI said on Thursday.

    “While auctions should be held at the earliest, a lot of things need to be kept in mind. We need to look at whether 4G itself has been used to full capacity, and need to keep in mind that 5G standards haven’t been set,” PHDCCI Chairman (Telecom Committee) Sandeep Aggarwal said.

    He added 5G spectrum may continue to be given since AGR and SUC will anyway be payable by the operators, and noted that further discussions on this with the stakeholders will be held during TEMA-PHDCCI’s ‘Telecom Summit 2020’.

    Aggarwal also emphasised that India should buy 5G technology and ensure local manufacturing through licensing as it would enable domestic telecom equipment manufacturing companies to develop and flourish.

    5G trials in the country are widely expected to begin in this quarter. According to sources, the government has received applications for 5G trials and all operators and vendors (including Nokia, Ericsson, Huawei, ZTE and Samsung) are keen to participate.

    PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PHDCCI) has also suggested setting up Telecom Finance Corporation that can provide domestic line of credit funding to telecom operators to procure domestic PMI-compliant equipment.

    The industry body, along with Telecom Equipment Manufacturers Association (TEMA), will host Telecom Summit 2020 on the theme ‘5G Technology: Forging Ahead into a Smarter India’ in the national capital on January 21.

    The event will provide a platform to service providers, technology vendors, app and content players as well as policy makers to brainstorm and understand 5G technology and things associated with it.

    5G has the potential to transform the world and have an impact on how organisations think, work and serve their customers and new innovations will flourish, Aggarwal said.

    “The objective of the summit is to come out with concrete suggestions on how best to position India as a globally synchronised participant in the design, development and manufacturing of 5G based technologies, products and applications. 5G can give India, with its proven prowess in IT, an edge and an opportunity to become a manufacturing hub of the world,” he added.

  4. 5G financing: Unbundle services, say Trai chairman

    The industry needs to come up with innovative investment solutions like unbundling of infrastructure and investments for different services in the telecom sector in order to finance the adoption of the 5G technology, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) Chairman Ram Sewak Sharma said.

    “This could be one way of distributing investments needed for 5G technology, Sharma said at the ‘Telecom Summit 2020 5G Technology: Forging Ahead Into a Smarter India, ‘ organised by the PHD Chamber of Commerce & Industry (PHDCCI) and the Telecom Equipment Manufacturers Association (TEMA).

    The top official also said that it had favoured local manufacturing of telecom gear, and already sent out its recommendations to the government.

    Sharma added that it must be kept in mind that telecom players could not be investing alone in the country’s quest for 5G technology that will have multiple applications and that adopting unbundling of services could help the private telecom sector cope with the investment needs that are going to be huge.

    “The key issue is to explore the possibilities of common infrastructure and sharing the same and how to frame policies for this so that no one is hurt, said Ajit Pai, Advisor, NITI Ayog, and added that asset monetisation could be one aspect that the telecom players could consider.

    Sandeep Agarwal, Chairman, Telecom Committee of the PHDCCI said that 5G was needed and while discouraging products, technology should be imported by India.

    “ITI and C-DOT can be used to invest in higher technology, optical fibre preforms and chip manufacturing. The foreign companies must be allowed access to Indian market only on the condition they sell technology and allow manufacture of licensed telecom equipment in India, ” Agarwal said.

    Expressing his apprehensions over bringing 5G too soon, he said that the government could consider whether this was the best time to embrace 5G.

  5. Value of 5G in India higher than advanced countries: Cisco Asia chief
    “The value of 5G in India, in many ways, is higher than in advanced countries as it enables India to jump straight to smart infrastructure, and that comes at a lower cost but with faster delivery,” Cisco Asia president Miyuki Suzuki told ETTelecom.

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