India lagging in 5G unless spectrum prices decrease & 5Gi standard debate is settled

Bloomberg says India risks lagging in the rollout of the 5G wireless networks unless the government makes airwaves cheaper in an upcoming spectrum auction, a local telecom industry body said, citing the financial stress in the sector.

“The reserve prices are fixed so high that almost 50-60% of the spectrum may go unsold,” S.P. Kochhar, director general of Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), said in an interview August 27th. “It is not viable because we are not passing on the extra price to the consumer as we continue to bleed. We have to reduce our cash outflow and one of the major things money goes into is auctions.”

Proceeds from the 5G airwaves auction, likely early next year, is an important source of revenue for the Indian Exchequer (UK term for Treasury Dept.) especially as the Narendra Modi-led government looks to spur India’s pandemic-hit economy. Too high a reserve price for spectrum risks putting off wireless network operators whose financial health has been battered by a brutal tariff war after the entry of billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd. in 2016. Most operators since have quit, gone bankrupt or merged.

Lowering the base price for auctioned spectrum and other government levies have been a longstanding industry demand. The local telecom industry is paying about 32% of its total revenue as levies and taxes and that’s “too high,” said Kochhar. “It’s the highest in the world.”

India’s government has set the reserve price for 5G airwaves at 4.92 billion rupees ($67.2 million) per megahertz of spectrum in 3,300 to 3,600 Mhz bands which are most suitable for the new technology. Kochhar expects the auction to happen in January or February 2022.

High reserve prices have hindered spectrum sales in some categories in the past. The 700 megahertz band, which is suitable for 5G technology, didn’t receive any bids in the March auction.


Sidebar: TSDSI’s 5Gi standard (included in ITU-R M.2150 recommendation/IMT 2020.specs)

Another important aspect of 5G in India deployments has been the deliberation on the development of specific 5G India standards (5Gi or LMLC). While the Telecommunications Standards Development Society of India (TSDSI) has been keen on pushing telcos to undertake trials based on 5Gi, a homegrown standard with a Large Cell Low Mobility enhancement for wider coverage in rural areas, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) has argued for the implementation of the global 3GPP specification (5G NR in Release 15 & 16) for 5G in India. They remain convinced that 5Gi could lead to interoperability issues. This ongoing debate is further delaying the 5G launch in India.

Source: The Economic Times


India remains a relative latecomer in the 5G space compared to some countries, including China and South Korea, which already have 5G networks in place.

If the government can “somehow have the right price point for spectrum,” it would boost the growth of 5G network traffic as well as the devices, Bharti Airtel Ltd. Chairman Sunil Mittal said in an investor call Monday. “We need to invest in fiber backhaul now.”

The market leader Jio and Bharti Airtel, India’s no. 2 operator, have been conducting 5G trials in preparation for a nationwide roll out once the airwaves are sold.

Debt-laden Vodafone Idea Ltd. — the only other private sector wireless operator left in India — has been posting losses for several quarters and is struggling to stay afloat. Bharti and Vodafone Idea also have to come up with billions of rupees in back dues to the government after India’s top court rejected their petitions seeking relief.

“At this point, the payouts in telecom are so excessive that even survival is becoming a problem,” said Kochhar.  That strongly implies there will be only two 5G network operators in India- Jio and Bharti!


BSNL is aiming to upgrade the 4G network to 5G non-standalone (NSA) by 2022 (pending 5G spectrum to be purchased at the long delayed auction) and to 5G standalone (SA) by 2023.  What about that? Almost every country has already deployed 5G NSA while operators are slowly evolving to 5G SA using different software technologies in the absence of any standard or implementation spec.

Light Reading says BSNL is unlikely to meet to this timeline, with shortlisted 4G network vendors still conducting tests. It is likely to be another year before BSNL can roll out a 4G network, while private-sector companies are gearing up for a 5G launch in the coming year.


The Reality of 5G in India

4 thoughts on “India lagging in 5G unless spectrum prices decrease & 5Gi standard debate is settled

  1. As Alan has noted, India’s 5G spectrum auction will be bid primarily by just 2 telcos – Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel. I wouldn’t be surprised if those two companies covertly or overtly (in association with the government) participate in a price fixing game.

    At this time 5G delays could very well be a blessing in disguise. There are no real or compelling 5G use cases and 90% of the Indian public wouldn’t pay more than what they are paying now, which is ~$3 per month! Don’t believe falsehoods about 5G servicing 1 billion+ people since only 20% of India’s mobile phone users consume almost all the data in the country’s cellular networks!

  2. Nokia says telcos building pan-India 5G capacity to boost business growth

    Telecom operators are developing pan-India 5G capacity which will continue to drive business for Nokia in the country, the head of the Finnish firm’s India unit has said.

    Nokia Senior Vice President & Head of India Market Sanjay Malik told PTI that telecom companies are focusing on building capacity for 5G so that they are ready for launch once they get spectrum in the proposed auction, while their strategy on roll out of services circle or city-wise is still in works.

    “We still see positive momentum in the market from both the capacity and the coverage build which is going to happen, the 5G readiness in terms of transport, the broadband. All these segments would still continue over the rest of the year and we see good potential and good momentum in all the areas,” Malik said.

    Nokia’s sales in India grew 75 per cent on year-on-year basis to 230 million euros in the second quarter ended June 30, 2021 from 179 million euros.

    Malik said the spectrum auction conducted by the government in March was the key driver from India perspective which fuelled company’s business in the country.

    “Basically it is the 4G capacity and coverage which started and because of the spectrum auction that got a boost but operators have started building their transport and their backhaul for 5G readiness. Because of Covid, working from home environment, the fixed broadband also has been seeing a good growth in the market,” Malik said. He added that Nokia also recorded growth in cloud and network services portfolio.

  3. Indian network operator Vodafone Idea (Vi) has announced it has achieved peak speed in excess of 3.7 Gbps on the mmWave spectrum band, in Pune city (Maharashtra state). Vi reached peak download speeds of up to 1.5 Gbps in a 3.5 Ghz spectrum trial in Gandhinagar and Pune city.

    Vi is conducting 5G trials using mmWave spectrum allocated by the government. Vi received mmWave 26 GHz spectrum bands from India’s Department of Telecom (DoT), along with the traditional 3.5 GHz spectrum band, for 5G network trials.

    The trials are carried out in the cities of Pune (Maharashtra) and Gandhinagar (Gujarat). Vi’s 5G trial in the city of Pune took place in a lab setup using a captive network of Cloud Core transport and radio access network. In this trial, Vi has achieved peak speed in excess of 3.7 Gbps in the mmWave spectrum band.

    Vi has also achieved peak download speeds of up to 1.5 Gbps in its 5G trial network using the 3.5 Ghz spectrum, with its OEM partners in Gandhinagar and Pune city.–1397602

  4. Bharti Airtel on October 5th said it has conducted India’s first rural 5G trial with Swedish telecoms equipment maker Ericsson. The demonstration took place in Bhaipur Bramanan village on the outskirts of Delhi/NCR using 5G trial spectrum allocated by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT).

    “The trial showcases the massive potential offered by 5G towards bridging the digital divide by enabling access to high speed broadband through solutions such as enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) and Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) services,” the companies said in a joint statement.

    The trial demonstrated over 200Mbps throughput on 3GPP-compliant 5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) device located more than 10km from the site.

    The trial also showcased that a commercially available 3GPP-based 5G smartphone could connect to the test network and record over 100Mbps speeds at a distance of more than 10km from the site.

    The 5G site was powered by Ericsson’s 3GPP-compliant 5G radio. The trial was carried out by utilizing the allocated mid-band trial spectrum in 3500MHz band and existing FDD spectrum band.

    “Having demonstrated India’s first 5G network and also the first 5G cloud gaming experience, Airtel is proud to have also conducted the nation’s first 5G trial in a rural geography. 5G will be a transformational technology when it comes to delivering broadband coverage to the last mile through use cases like FWA and contribute to a more inclusive digital economy,” said Randeep Singh Sekhon, Airtel CTO.

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