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.

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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

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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!

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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.

References:

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-08-30/telecom-lobby-sees-india-lagging-in-5g-unless-airwaves-cost-less

https://www.lightreading.com/4g3gwifi/bsnl-picks-c-dot-tcs-and-tejas-as-4g-vendors—report/d/d-id/771783?

The Reality of 5G in India

Jio and Airtel against 5Gi standard; 2 GHz of mid-band needed for India 5G demand

Indian telecom operators have informed the India Department of Telecommunications (DoT) that the so-called Indian component of the ITU 5G RAN recommendation M.2150 (Low Mobility Large Cell/LMLC or 5Gi), doesn’t have a device ecosystem and it should only be considered as optional and non-mandatory for the telecom industry.  They said that making the 5Gi standard mandatory would increase prices of smartphones.

Backgrounder:

TSDSI’s 5G Radio Interface Technology, referred to as LMLC or “5Gi” cleared the rigorous processes of  International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and has been approved by ITU-R WP 5D and then ITU-R SG5 as a part of Draft Recommendation M.[IMT-2020.SPECS] in its meeting held on 23rd November 2020.  That recommendation was approved by ITU-R as recommendation M.2150 early this year.

5Gi, the first  ever Mobile Radio Interface Technology contribution from India to become part of ITU-R’s  IMT recommendation, went through a rigorous evaluation process of the ITU-R working groups over the past 3 years before getting the approval.

This standard is a major breakthrough for bridging the rural-urban digital divide in 5G deployment due to enhanced coverage. It enables connecting majority of India’s villages through towers located at gram panchayats in a cost effective manner. It has found support from several countries as it addresses their regional needs from a 5G standpoint.

Indian telcos, vendors and chipmakers met the DoT Secretary last week for stakeholder consultation on the 5G ecosystem. The meeting was also attended by members from academia, ICEA, TSDSI, CDoT and chipmakers.

During the meeting, an Airtel representative told the secretary that 5Gi is not globally harmonized and will lead to costly devices and delays in rollout.

Reliance Jio representative also urged the department to avoid mandating any requirements for consumer devices for spectrum, features etc., as they are market driven. “No minimum technology specifications approach for 5G devices,” the company said as per the minutes of meetings accessed by ET.

COAI, which represents telcos and telecom equipment vendors, told the department that 5Gi doesn’t have a device ecosystem and efforts to be made as part of 3GPP [1.].

Note 1. That is a false assertion as TSDSI, which is a member of 3GPP, presented its 5Gi/LMLC to ITU WP 5D as a Radio Interface Technology (RIT) for IMT 2020. After numerous contributions and tests, it was accepted as an integral part of ITU-R recommendation M.2150.  LMLC was not contributed to 3GPP for inclusion in their 5G Releases 15 and 16.

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“There will be implications if there is a separate handset production line for India which then can increase prices. We have sought clarification. It is claimed that there will be minor tweaks in handsets,” COAI director general S P Kochhar told ET.

Bharti Airtel once again raised the device ecosystem related issue with the department and said that 5G devices are required to support in all licensed bands auctioned in India including 2100 MHz, 1800 MHz in both standalone and non-standalone 5G modes.

“Handsets must support NSA Carrier Aggregation and Dynamic Spectrum Sharing in FDD and TDD spectrum bands,” Airtel said, adding that devices should also be capable of transmitting “26 dBm” both in NSA and SA modes.

Telecom operators reiterated the need for affordable 5G handsets to drive the uptake of high-speed service upon commercial availability. The cheapest 5G device is currently available at Rs 15,000 but only supports N78 band or the mid-band.

During the meeting, the COAI said that 5G standards should support both consumers, industry, and the Indian government must play a facilitating role.

“We are most happy if the local 5G standard is globally harmonized.  Globalization will help in lowering the cost of devices and achieving scale. It will also make India an export hub for 5G handsets. Harmonization with 3GPP is crucial even as there is substantial progress for 5Gi with the ITU,” Kochhar said.

Responding to ET’s queries, Prof. Bhaskar Ramamurthi, Director IIT Madras, former Chair-TSDSI and Chief proponent of 5Gi said that 5G handsets require only minor firmware and software changes to become 5G+5Gi handsets, which will not lead to any increase in costs as confirmed by some handset solution providers and operators.

“Even earlier, “operator specific” changes have been implemented by the vendors – example – modems have region specific requirements such as bands, power levels and Dual SIM which involve hardware changes. Also, given the scale of the Indian market in terms of no. of connections and growth rate, the initial development cost of making these modifications, modest as it is, will get amortized very quickly,” Ramamurthi added.

“We should not see a situation where the industry is stuck. If 5Gi gets harmonized then it is a win-win situation. Otherwise the cost to the subscriber will be high,” Kochhar added.

The Jio representative also supported the technology neutral approach for 5G and suggested that India’s government must make efforts for global harmonization of 5Gi standards by making it part of 3GPP [2].

Note 2.  This assertion is also completely wrong. 3GPP is NOT a standards body.  All of their specs must be transposed by it’s member standards bodies (e.g. ETSI, ATIS, etc) or ITU-R to be considered as standards.  TSDSI took their 5Gi/LMLC directly to ITU-R WP-5D which accepted it as part of the first official 5G RAN standard-  ITU-R M.2150. Any harmonization of 5G standards must occur in ITU-R WP-5D and NOT 3GPP.

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Samsung, which is the sole 4G equipment provider for Jio and India’s second largest smartphone brand, also supported telcos’ demand for a harmonized 5Gi standard during the meeting.

Both Jio and Airtel reiterated their demand for lowering the reserve price for 5G spectrum.

“Current pricing of mid-band spectrum is unrealistic,” Jio said, supporting the need to seek the reserve price from TRAI for all 5G spectrum bands for auction with a clear request that the reserve price be kept reasonable in order to meet the 5G proliferation goals.

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) will seek a fresh base price from the telecom regulator for the 3300-3750 MHz as well as floor prices for other bands that can support 5G.

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Jio also urged the department to make available 2 GHz of mid-band spectrum to meet the demands of 2025-2030 timeframe. Airtel, on the other hand, asked the government to auction spectrum in mmWave band along with mid band and 600 MHz band and earmark them for 5G.

Jio has also asked the India DoT to identify and incorporate in NFAP [3] the entire C band 3.3-4.2 GHz, mmWave 24.25-29.5 Ghz, 37 GHz along with E and V bands.

Note 3. The NFAP is a central policy roadmap that defines future spectrum usage by all bodies in India, including DoT, the Department of Space and the defense ministry.

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Closing Comment:

It’s very disappointing that after all of TSDSI’s efforts to get 5Gi/LMLC included in the 1st official IMT 2020 RIT/SRIT standard (ITU-R M.2150) they couldn’t convince India telecom carriers or global equipment/chip vendors to endorse 5Gi/LMLC.

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References:

Reliance jio: Jio joins Airtel in fight against 5Gi standard; says 2 GHz in mid-band needed for India 5G demand, Telecom News, ET Telecom (indiatimes.com)

IMT 2020.SPECS approved by ITU-R but may not meet 5G performance requirements; no 5G frequencies (revision of M.1036); 5G non-radio aspects not included

India’s TSDSI candidate IMT 2020 RIT with Low Mobility Large Cell (LMLC) for rural coverage of 5G services

India’s Success in 5G Standards; IIT Hyderabad & WiSig Networks Initiatives

TSDSI’s 5G Radio Interface spec advances to final step of IMT-2020.SPECS standard

Reliance Jio claim: Complete 5G solution from scratch with 100% home grown technologies

Executive Summary: IMT-2020.SPECS defined, submission status, and 3GPP’s RIT submissions

https://blog.3g4g.co.uk/2021/06/tsdsis-low-mobility-large-cell-lmlc.html

 

Intel working with Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel on 5G for India

Intel said that it is helping Reliance Jio make the transition from 4G to 5G as part of their 5G infrastructure deal. Intel and Jio are collaborating in the areas of 5G radio, core, cloud, edge and artificial intelligence.

“…our collaboration spans those areas, and it’s co.innovation. So, we have got our engineering and business unit teams working closely with Reliance Jio in those areas. And we are committed towards helping customers and partners like Reliance Jio to make the transition from 4G to 5G,” Prakash Mallya, vice president and MD of sales, marketing and communications group at Intel told ET.

Intel’s investment arm, Intel Capital, had in 2020 invested Rs 1,894.50 crore to buy a 0.39% equity stake in Jio Platforms.

Separately, Bharti Airtel Wednesday said it is collaborating with  Intel for working towards 5G network development by leveraging Virtualized Radio Access Network (vRAN) and O-RAN technologies.

This is Intel’s second 5G-related partnership in India.  As per the above, Intel is collaborating with Reliance Jio to help India’s #1 telco with its 5G network development, including in the areas of 5G radio, core, cloud, edge, and artificial intelligence.

Airtel will deploy Intel’s 3rd-generation Xeon Scalable processors, FPGAs, and eASICS, and Ethernet 800 series across its network to build a foundation for rolling out wide-scale 5G, mobile edge computing (MEC) and network slicing which requires a 5G SA core network.

The partnership will also allow Airtel to tap into the hyperconnected world where Industry 4.0, cloud gaming, and virtual/augmented reality (VR/AR) become an integral part of daily lives, according to an official statement.

Earlier this year, Airtel became the first telecom operator in India to demonstrate 5G over a live network in Hyderabad using liberalized spectrum.

The Sunil Mittal-led Bharti is also conducting 5G trials in major cities such as Gurgaon’s Cyber Hub in the Millennium city and in Mumbai’s Phoenix Mall in Lower Parel, in partnership with Swedish Ericsson and Finland’s Nokia, respectively, ET previously reported.

Airtel also entered into a partnership with Tata Sons and Tata Consultancy Services to deploy OpenRAN 5G solutions, including radio and core. It plans to begin pilot in January 2022.

Jio has developed and tested its homegrown 5G solutions together with its partners in India and plans to export the solutions to global markets once proven at a pan-India scale.

Prakash Mallya, vice president and MD of sales, marketing and communications group at Intel recently told ET that the company is helping Indian telecom operators. On Jio partnership, he said that Intel is helping the Mukesh Ambani-led telco transition from 4G to 5G as part of their 5G infrastructure deal.

Intel’s investment arm, Intel Capital, had in 2020 invested India Rupees 1,894.50 crore to buy a 0.39% equity stake in Jio Platforms.

Randeep Sekhon, CTO – Bharti Airtel said, “Airtel is delighted to have Intel as a part of its rapidly expanding partner ecosystem for 5G. Intel’s cutting-edge technologies and experience will contribute immensely to Airtel’s mission of serving India with world-class 5G services. We also look forward to working with Intel and home-grown companies to unlock India’s potential as a global 5G hub.”

“Airtel is delivering their next-generation enhanced network with a breadth of Intel technology, including Intel Xeon Scalable processors and FlexRAN software to optimize RAN workloads with embedded intelligence, to scale their infrastructure and deliver on the promise of a connected India,” Dan Rodriguez, Intel corporate vice president, Network Platforms Group said in a joint statement.

References:

https://telecom.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/intel-helping-jio-transition-from-4g-to-5g-india-md/84608834

https://telecom.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/after-jio-intel-lands-new-o-ran-5g-network-deal-with-airtel/84611108

https://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/wireless-network/5g-business-opportunity-infographic.html

https://cmte.ieee.org/comsoc-tech-blog/2020/07/20/reliance-jio-claim-complete-5g-solution-from-scratch-with-100-home-grown-technologies/

https://cmte.ieee.org/comsoc-tech-blog/2020/05/21/india-telecom-revenue-to-slow-through-march-2021-5g-spectrum-auction-delayed-yet-again/

 

India approves backhaul satellite connectivity via VSAT for telecom services; BharatNet tender coming soon

India’s Digital Communications Commission (DCC), formerly the Telecom Commission, has authorized use of satellite connectivity in telecom networks to provide services in remote areas where it is difficult to lay fiber optic cable.  As a result, VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminals) operators will now be able to provide satellite-based cellular backhaul connectivity to telcos in India.  That enables Indian wireless telecom communications service providers, like Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea, to use satellite capacity from VSAT license holders, such as Hughes, Nelco and BSNL, to connect their cell sites.

“With a view of ease of doing business, the DCC has approved provision of cellular backhaul connectivity via satellite through VSAT for telecom services as per Trai recommendation,” said India’s Telecom Secretary Anshu Prakash.

VSAT backhaul can also help Indian telcos cost-effectively extend coverage in rural and remote areas that are yet to be connected with fiber. Around 50% of India’s population is not yet connected to the Internet.

Several global LEO satellite providers, including Elon Musk’s Starlink, Bharti backed OneWeb and Amazon’s Project Kuiper, have recently started exploring the Indian market.  OneWeb specifically will offer satellite capacity for cellular backhaul, but will need a VSAT permit to provide satellite-based backhaul services to the telcos.

Starlink and Project Kuiper have different business models, focusing on providing satellite-based broadband Internet directly to end users.

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Telecom Secretary Anshu Prakash also said that the DCC has also cleared the Request for Proposal (RFP) for the rollout of BharatNet project for broadband services in villages in 16 Indian states in public private partnership mode with viability gap funding of Rs 19,041 crore (or US$ 2,544,834.60).  “DoT (Department of Telecom) will come out with the tender for the PPP mode rollout of BharatNet in 16 states in seven days,” Prakash said.

India Telecom Secretary Anshu Prakash Photo Credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

BharatNet project objectives are to:

  1. To carry on the business of establishment, management and operation of National Optical Fiber Network (NOFN) which has been envisaged by the Government of India to provide high speed broadband connectivity to all gram panchayats.
  2. To provide access to bandwidth in a non discriminatory manner to all eligible service providers to enable them to provide services in rural areas.

Comment and Analysis: 

Just as India’s 5G spectrum auction has been the victim of one delay after another, so has the BharatNet project.  The timeline for 2nd phase of the BharatNet project, earlier slated to be completed by August 2021, was extended with no definitive completion date.

“The phase-II project was envisaged to be completed by August 2021. However, this time will now be extended as the pace of completion is affected by and restrictions on movement imposed by the various Governments due to COVID-19,” said India Minister of State for Communications Sanjay Dhotre.

“The delay in the implementation by the states is also adversely affecting the completion of the project. For other states, not being implemented under state-led model, the implementation strategy is under the process of review,” he added.

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References:

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/dcc-clears-backhaul-satellite-connectivity-via-vsat-for-telecom-services-rs-19041-cr-bharatnet-tender-dot-secy-7390480/

https://www.thehindu.com/business/Industry/dcc-clears-backhaul-satellite-connectivity-via-vsat-for-telecom-services-19041-cr-bharatnet-tender-dot-secy/article35153674.ece

http://bbnl.nic.in/

https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/bharatnet-s-phase-2-completion-timeline-to-be-extended-due-to-covid-dhotre-120091701226_1.html

https://www.lightreading.com/asia/india-lets-vsat-offer-satellite-backhaul-connectivity-to-csps/d/d-id/770701?

 

5G Made in India: Bharti Airtel and Tata Group partner to implement 5G in India

On June 21st, Bharti Airtel and Tata Group announced a strategic partnership for implementing 5G network solutions for India.  A 5G pilot should start in January 2022, unless it’s delayed by India’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT).

The announcement underscores a push for indigenous made 5G solutions in India.  Despite tremendous hype, the world’s second-largest telecom market has not yet launched commercial 5G service.

Airtel’s partnership with Tata Group allows the telecom operator to take head-on, rival Reliance Jio’s so called “homegrown 5G solutions.”   Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Jio is accelerating the rollout of digital platforms and indigenously-developed next-generation 5G stack.

According to a statement, Tata Group has developed O-RAN (Open Radio Access Network) based radios and 5G NSA/SA (Non-Standalone=4G-LTE/Standalone) Core and has integrated a totally indigenous telecom stack, leveraging the Group capabilities and that of its partners.

Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) brings its global system integration expertise and helps align the end-to-end solution to both 3GPP and O-RAN standards, as the network and equipment are increasingly embedded into software,” the Tata statement added.

Airtel will pilot and deploy this indigenous solution as part of its 5G rollout plans in India, with a pilot beginning in January 2022, as per the norms formulated by the government.

Gopal Vittal, Managing Director & CEO (India and South Asia) Bharti Airtel said, “We are delighted to join forces with the Tata Group to make India a global hub for 5G and allied technologies. With its world-class technology ecosystem and talent pool, India is well positioned to build cutting edge solutions and applications for the world. This will also provide a massive boost to India becoming an innovation and manufacturing destination.”

N Ganapathy Subramaniam from the Tata group/TCS said, “As a group, we are excited about the opportunity presented by 5G and adjacent possibilities. We are committed to building a world-class networking equipment and solutions business to address these opportunities in the networking space. We are pleased to have Airtel as our customer in this initiative.” 

Airtel is a board member of the O-RAN Alliance and is committed to explore and implement O-RAN-based networks in India. Earlier this year, Airtel became the first telecom company in India to demonstrate 5G over its LIVE network in the city of Hyderabad. The company has started 5G trials in major cities using spectrum allocated by the Department of Telecom.

The Tata group’s telecom and media enterprises cater to the communication requirements of global business houses to SMEs, and from wholesale to home networks. TCS is a member of the O-RAN Alliance.

About Airtel: 

Headquartered in India, Airtel is a global communications solutions provider with over 471 mn customers in 18 countries across South Asia and Africa. The company ranks amongst the top three mobile operators globally and its networks cover over two billion people. Airtel is India’s largest integrated communications solutions provider and the second-largest mobile operator in Africa. Airtel’s retail portfolio includes high-speed 4G/4.5G mobile broadband, Airtel Xstream Fiber that promises speeds up to 1 Gbps with convergence across linear and on-demand entertainment, streaming services spanning music and video, digital payments, and financial services. For enterprise customers, Airtel offers a gamut of solutions that includes secure connectivity, cloud and data centre services, cybersecurity, IoT, Ad Tech, and cloud-based communication. For more details visit www.airtel.com 

About the Tata Group:

Founded by Jamsetji Tata in 1868, the Tata group is a global enterprise, headquartered in India, comprising 30 companies across ten verticals. The group operates in more than 100 countries across six continents, with a mission ‘To improve the quality of life of the communities we serve globally, through long-term stakeholder value creation based on Leadership with Trust’.

Tata Sons is the principal investment holding company and promoter of Tata companies. Sixty-six percent of the equity share capital of Tata Sons is held by philanthropic trusts, which support education, health, livelihood generation, and art and culture. In 2019-20, the revenue of Tata companies, taken together, was $106 billion (INR 7.5 trillion). These companies collectively employ over 750,000 people.

Each Tata company or enterprise operates independently under the guidance and supervision of its own board of directors. There are 29 publicly-listed Tata enterprises with a combined market capitalization of $123 billion (INR 9.3 trillion) as of March 31, 2020. Companies include Tata Consultancy Services, Tata Motors, Tata Steel, Tata Chemicals, Tata Consumer Products, Titan, Tata Capital, Tata Power, Tata Advanced Systems, Indian Hotels, and Tata Communications.

For more details visit www.tata.com

For more information, please contact:  Harsha Ramachandra harsha.r@tata.com

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References:

https://www.tata.com/newsroom/business/tata-airtel-5g

https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/business/airtel-tata-group-team-up-for-made-in-india-5g-network-solutions-271955

https://www.greaterkashmir.com/todays-paper/airtel-tata-grouptcs-announce-collaboration-for-made-in-india-5g

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June 25, 2021 Update Reliance Jio partners with Google Cloud for “5G edge enabled services”
India’s leading mobile operator, Reliance Jio, is teaming up with Google Cloud to deliver 5G services to consumers and enterprises. The operator will make use of the cloud giant’s distributed infrastructure to deliver its services and the two companies will team up to offer edge-enabled 5G services to Indian enterprise users. In addition, Google and Jio shared more details around their jointly developed made-for-India smartphone called JioPhone Next. And as part of a broader deal, the Reliance Group’s retail divisions will use Google’s cloud platforms to improve efficiency and gain scale. For further details, see this announcement.

Bharti Airtel’s 5G trial network goes live in Gurgaon’s Cyber Hub

Bharti Airtel’s 5G trial network has gone live in Gurgaon’s Cyber Hub [1.] in the Millennium city, sources familiar with the matter said. The site is operating in the 3500 MHz band using Ericsson’s 5G network equipment as per DoT guidelines and is delivering a throughput of over 1 Gbps.

Note 1Gurgaon is a city located in the northern Indian state of Haryana. It is situated near the DelhiHaryana border, about 30 kilometers (~19 miles) southwest of the national capital New Delhi and 268 km (167 mi) south of Chandigarh, the state capital. It is one of the major satellite cities of Delhi and is part of the National Capital Region of India.

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Airtel is currently working with Oppo, OnePlus, Vivo, Realme and Apple to test its 5G trial network, sources told ETTelecom.  A 5G trial network will go live in Mumbai in the coming days.

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) had recently allocated 5G trial spectrum in the 700 Mhz, 3.5 Ghz and 26 Ghz bands to Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea (Vi) to develop India-relevant use cases on the next-gen fast wireless broadband technology.

Airtel has been allotted 5G trial spectrum in 3500 MHz, 28 GHz and 700 MHz in Delhi/NCR, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru (aka Bangalore). Earlier this year, Airtel became the first telco in India to test 5G over a live network using liberalized spectrum in 1800 MHz band.

Allotment of 5G trial spectrum is particularly crucial for Jio and Airtel, who already have 5G-ready networks and have recently bulked up on crucial airwaves in the recent auction to cater to the surge in data usage amid Covid and also future-proof themselves ahead of 5G rollouts.

Airtel and Vodafone Idea had opted for Finland’s Nokia and Sweden’s Ericsson while BSNL plans to partner state-run Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DoT). Jio had named Samsung, Nokia and Ericsson besides applying to trial its own technology.

Both Jio and Airtel have already claimed their end-to-end readiness to launch commercial 5G services in the country shortly after the availability of “adequate” spectrum.

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In January, Airtel became the first telco to successfully demonstrate live 5G service over a commercial network in Hyderabad in the 1800 MHz band through the NSA (Non-Stand Alone) network technology.

Airtel in the past has noted that 5G will be capable of delivering 10x speeds, 10x latency and 100x concurrency when compared to existing technologies. It noted that in Hyderabad, users were able to download a full-length movie in a matter of seconds on a 5G phone, a demonstration that has underlined the company’s technology capabilities. The full impact of the 5G experience, however, will be available to Airtel’s customers, when an adequate spectrum is available and government approvals are received. Users will not be required to switch SIM cards when the network is available for them.

References:

https://telecom.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/airtels-mid-band-5g-trial-network-live-in-gurgaons-cyber-hub/83502175

https://www.indiatoday.in/technology/news/story/airtel-5g-network-trial-goes-live-in-gurgaon-shows-1gbps-download-speed-1814649-2021-06-14#

 

 

 

India 4G Spectrum Auction Raises 778 billion Rupees

After much delay, India’s 4G spectrum auction has ended in just two days, raising Indian Rupee (INR) 778 billion (US $10.6 billion) for the government. The auction was held on March 1st and 2nd by India’s Department of Telecommunications.  The airwaves acquired will help India’s telecom network operators add 4G capacity and get ready for 5G.

India auctioned spectrum in the 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 2300 MHz and 2500 MHz frequency bands. However, the 700MHz spectrum remained unsold because of the high reserve price.

India telecom network operators Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel, and Vodafone Idea won spectrum in the government’s latest auction.

India’s largest telco, Reliance Jio announced it has acquired the right to use spectrum in all 22 circles across India in the auction. The upstart network operator secured spectrum in the 800 MHz, 1800 MHz and 2300 MHz frequency bands, which increases Jio’s spectrum footprint by 55 percent to 1,717 MHz.

Jio will pay INR 571.23 billion for the right to use this spectrum for a period of 20 years. Payments can be made over a period of 18 years (2-year moratorium plus 16-year repayment period), with interest at 7.3 percent per year.

Reliance Jio now claims to have the highest amount of sub-GHz spectrum with 2×10 MHz contiguous spectrum in most circles. It also has at least 2×10 MHz in the 1800 MHz band and 40 MHz in the 2300 MHz band in each of the 22 circles. The operator also reports it has achieved complete spectrum derisking, with average life of owned spectrum of 15.5 years. Reliance Jio will acquire the spectrum with an effective cost of INR 608 million per MHz. Jio also says the acquired spectrum can be used for provision of 5G services.

“The acquired spectrum can be utilized for transition to 5G services at the appropriate time, where Jio has developed its own 5G stack,” says the Jio press release.

India’s second-largest network service provider, Bharti Airtel acquired 355.45 MHz of spectrum across sub-GHz, mid-band and 2300 MHz bands for a total price of INR 186.99 billion. Airtel will use this spectrum to upgrade its deep indoor and in-building coverage in urban towns. In addition, this spectrum will also help improve its coverage in villages by offering the superior Airtel experience to an additional 90 million customers in India. Airtel also plans to use this spectrum to deliver 5G services in future.

An Airtel statement mentioned that the “the reserve pricing of these bands [700MHz and 3.5GHz] must be addressed on priority in future. This will help the nation to benefit from the digital dividend that will inevitably arise out of this.”

“Airtel has now secured pan-India footprint of sub GHz spectrum that will help improve its deep indoor and in building coverage in every urban town,” as per the company’s statement.

Vodafone Idea entered this spectrum auction “holding the largest quantum of spectrum with a very small fraction, which was administratively allocated and used for GSM services, coming up for renewal”.

As a result, Vodafone Idea acquired spectrum in only five circles for INR 19.93 billion. The operator said it has used this opportunity to optimize spectrum holdings post-merger to create further efficiencies in a few circles. Vodafone Idea expects the spectrum it has acquired in five circles to help it enhance its 4G coverage and capacity.

 

India’s just completed spectrum auction does not contain any airwaves for 5G

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Reliance Jio’s decision to be the biggest spenders at the auction comes shortly after its holding company, Jio Platforms, reported ₹22,858 crore in revenue during the quarter to December, which was a 30% improvement from the year prior.

Last year, Jio Platforms sold a third of itself to others for ₹152,056 crore. Buyers included Google, Facebook, Silver Lake, Vista Equity Partners, General Atlantic, KKR, Mubadala, ADIA, TPG, L Catterton, PIF, Intel Capital, and Qualcomm Ventures.

References:

https://www.bloombergquint.com/business/india-sells-spectrum-worth-rs-77000-crore-as-operators-add-4g-capacity-focus-on-5g

https://www.telecompaper.com/news/india-completes-spectrum-auction-raises-inr-778-billion–1374417

India to start long delayed spectrum auction on March 1st

India is FINALLY set to hold its first spectrum auction for four years on March 1st when it offers up 2,250 MHz of spectrum across seven bands ranging from 700 MHz to 2.5 GHz.  Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea  (Vi) are expected to bid for airwaves worth Rs 3.92 lakh crore at base price. Industry analysts see a muted response, given the strained condition of the telecom sector, and expect the government to generate only Rs 40,000-50,000 crore from the sale.

Editors Note:

One rupee crore, as of 2014, is approximately equivalent to $163,720, using the exchange rate of 61.07 rupees per U.S. dollar. In the south Asian numbering system, a crore is equivalent to 10 million.

lakh is a unit in the Indian numbering system equal to one hundred thousand (100,000; scientific notation: 105).

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The sale will help Reliance Jio renew a chunk of expiring spectrum permits and offer Bharti Airtel and Vi a chance to add to their bandwidth holdings as data usage rises. Experts expect Jio, the only profit-making carrier, to be the main buyer and spend close to Rs 20,000-30,000 crore, followed by Airtel at Rs 10,000-15,000 crore, and Vi pitching in with a few thousand crores by bidding for only some airwaves. The spending will add to the telcos’ debt, making tariff hikes more likely.

ETD-1-07012021

SOURCE:  Economic Times of India

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The main objectives of the auction were to obtain a “market-determined price for the spectrum on offer, ensure efficient use of spectrum and avoid hoarding,” stimulate competition in the sector and maximize revenue proceeds, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) said in the NIA.

The government is putting on sale 660 MHz in the 700 MHz band, 230 MHz in 800 MHz band, 81.4 MHz in 900 MHz band, 313.6 MHz in 1800 MHz band, 175 MHz in 2100 MHz band, 560 MHz in 2300 MHz band and 230 MHz in 2500 MHz band.  Indian telcos have spent nearly Rs 3.7 lakh crore over six spectrum auctions since 2010. But this is the first time there are likely to be only three bidders.

COAI, the industry body that represents the telcos, said the government had addressed the requirement for availability of more spectrum. But lower reserve prices would have provided additional resources for network expansion for the telcos. “High reserve prices (in the past) have resulted in large amounts of spectrum remaining unsold,” said COAI in a statement.

COAI said the auction will enable the industry to cater to the exponential increase in data usage which will facilitate in supporting the Digital India vision. “While the government has addressed the requirement for the availability of more spectrum, lowering the reserve prices would have provided additional resources for network expansion to the telcos. High reserve prices in past auctions have resulted in large amounts of spectrum remaining unsold. We hope the Govt. will take additional measures to boost the financial health of the industry, which is the backbone of a digitally connected India,” COAI DG SP Kochhar said.

In the premium 4G spectrum (700 MHz), Trai had reduced the reserve price by 43% compared to 2016 auctions, at Rs 6,568 crore per MHz, for a pan-India 5 MHz block, still, operators would have to shell out Rs 32,840 crore, which is seen as quite high. In the 2016 auctions, the government had mopped a total amount of Rs 65,789 crore, 4% over the reserve price, from the country’s six operators who participated in the bidding. However, this was a lukewarm response as only 965 MHz spectra got sold against a total of 2,353 MHz put up on sale, meaning that only 40% got sold.

According to analysts, Reliance Jio may be the only buyer of some airwaves in the premium 700 MHz band, with its rivals likely giving it a miss, despite a 43% cut in the base price from the 2016 sale, when they went unsold. This band alone is valued at Rs 2.3 lakh crore, with the rest of the bands worth Rs 1.62 lakh crore, at base price, according to brokerage Motilal Oswal.

While the NIA has clauses to factor in new entrants, including foreign players, industry experts say it’s unlikely that any new player will join the fray, given the dire state of the industry with debt of over Rs 8 lakh crore, weak pricing power and only one profit-making telco.

“Jio will focus on 800 MHz for renewal and adding capacity as its market share increases. Vi may look at optimization of spectrum since it has surplus airwaves in the 1800 MHz while Airtel will look at 1800 MHz as well,” said Rajiv Sharma, a telecom expert. “…this auction will further add to the operators’ debt, which in turn gets them closer to tariff hikes.”

The base rate of airwaves in the efficient 800 MHz band was pegged at Rs 4,745 crore a unit, which is around 20% less than the previously recommended minimum of Rs 5,819 crore a unit for 2016. The starting price for 1800 MHz spectrum though was set higher at Rs 3,291 crore a unit, compared with Rs 2,873 crore a unit previously.

A substantial portion of Jio’s own airwaves and those it shares with Reliance Communications in the 800 MHz band expires in 12 and 14 circles, respectively, starting July 2021. Without these airwaves, Jio’s services in these circles will be impacted, making it imperative that the telco bid for them, analysts said.   Jio, with over 406 million subscribers, also needs additional airwaves to cater to surging data demand and a rapidly growing user base that it expects to touch 500 million.

Airtel and Vi – with about 294 and 272 million users, respectively – own less expensive spectrum, mostly in the 1800 MHz band, set to expire across eight circles each from July. Both of those telcos have backup airwaves in most service areas. Airtel CEO Gopal Vittal has previously said that the company will look mainly for for sub-1 GHz spectrum.

For spectrum which isn’t immediately available and which will be assigned beyond one month of the close of this auction, the component of the upfront payment payable will be 10% of the bid amount for sub-1 GHz bands, and 20% of the bid amount for other bands. “…and the balance component of upfront payment (total of which is 25% for sub-1 GHz and 50% for other bands) shall be made one month prior to the ‘effective date’,” the DoT said.

References:

https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/telecom/telecom-policy/spectrum-auction-to-start-on-march-1/articleshow/80133307.cms

https://www.financialexpress.com/industry/government-to-hold-spectrum-auction-on-march-1/2165852/4

India ramps up supply chain for 5G service launch in 2021 pending spectrum auction

https://techblog.comsoc.org/2020/12/28/economic-times-indias-big-bet-on-5g-in-2021-starts-with-5g-spectrum-auction/

https://www.lightreading.com/asia/indias-govt-advised-to-make-5g-spectrum-more-affordable/d/d-id/766994?

 

India ramps up supply chain for 5G service launch in 2021 pending spectrum auction

There is excitement about the anticipated launch of 5G telecom services in India, but the government’s spectrum pricing strategy may be a damper. While the evolving ancillary segments are working on the backbone infrastructure for the 5G roll-out following Reliance Industries Ltd chairman Mukesh Ambani’s assurance that Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd will launch 5G wireless service in the second half of 2021, experts, however, said that India is not 100% ready.

India telecom equipment company Sterlite Technologies Ltd (STL) said India has been developing 5G infrastructure, but a pan-India roll out will require improving the device, spectrum, wireless and fiber optic ecosystem. “India has the capability of rolling out 5G as we have been building the infrastructure for years now. However, for a countrywide end-to-end deployment, India is not 100% ready… At STL, we will start commercial deployment of open-RAN (open radio access) that is required for 5G by second half of 2021,” said Anand Agarwal, group chief executive at STL.  The primary impact of 5G roll-out will be on the commercial ecosystem.  According to Agarwal, global supply chains have already matured and are 5G-ready, which makes it easier to import raw material (this author finds that very difficult to believe).

Experts said stressed financials of Bharti Airtel Ltd and Vodafone Idea Ltd (Vi) could discourage them to participate in the 5G launch, in view of the costs involving fiberization and the pricing of spectrum. Airtel and Vi are sitting on massive debts but continue to offer among the lowest tariffs in the world. The telcos have also called for affordable spectrum.

Analysts said the spectrum auction in March may see limited participation from Airtel and Vi due to high reserve prices. Jio, however, is likely to buy spectrum in the 700 megahertz (MHz) band, which is best suited for 5G.

Meanwhile, phone makers have also started producing 5G devices too. Faisal Kawoosa, the founder of techARC, said that India imported nearly two million 5G smartphones in 2020. “While most of these were in ultra-premium range, this year, any new smartphone priced above 30,000 should support 5G,” Kawoosa said, adding that 7-9% of all smartphones sold in India in 2021 are likely to support 5G, making it nearly four times the imports.  However, will those so called “5G” users actually get 5G service, especially when roaming?

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The big 3 Indian telcos are likely to voice their concerns to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) as the National Frequency Allocation Plan (NFAP-2018) has not been updated by the department’s wireless planning cell (WPC) more than a year after several new airwave bands, including the 26 Ghz spectrum, were identified by the ITU-R WRC 19 for 5G deployments worldwide, including in India.

The NFAP is a central policy roadmap that defines future spectrum usage by all bodies in the country, including DoT, the Department of Space and the defence ministry. Telcos want it revised quickly as any further delay could potentially hinder the auctioning of the premium millimetre-wave 5G bands.

“The NFAP-2018 needs to be revised expeditiously by the WPC to align different stakeholders if a meaningful 5G auction is to happen later this year, and the industry will take up the matter with DoT,” a senior industry executive told ET.

In November 2019, WRC-19 identified a set of new airwaves, including the 24.25-27.5 Ghz (popularly known as the 26 Ghz band), 37-43.5 Ghz, 45.5-47 Ghz, 47.2-48.2 Ghz and 66-71 Ghz bands for 5G services. However, none of these bands (primarily the mm waves) have been included in India’s NFAP.  Note also that ITU-R WP5D has not yet agreed on a revision of ITU-R M.1036  which would include the new frequency arrangements agreed during WRC 19 for terrestrial IMT deployments.

References:

https://www.livemint.com/industry/telecom/industry-ramps-up-supply-chain-for-5g-service-launch-in-21-11609726923530.html

https://telecom.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/telcos-to-push-dot-to-release-new-5g-spectrum-band/80085441