India’s 5G journey could be underway, finally. It is expected that the trials of the 5G networks will start in around 100 days, and the auction of the 5G spectrum for mobile companies should be completed before the end of the year. This will also put India on the map of 5G countries. Just recently, EE rolled out the 5G network in many cities in the UK, and Vodafone UK has also confirmed that it will switch on the 5G network in July. India could soon join the elite list of countries that has 5G networks, if the timelines laid out by the Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad are followed for the process. But the rollout will be easier said than done in India, since there are some pending issues that need to be addressed.
First is the matter of how much the operators will have to pay for the 5G spectrum.
In August 2018, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) had recommended that the Department of Telecom (DoT) should auction 20 megahertz (MHz) blocks in the 3,300-3,600 MHz spectrum band, which has been lined up for 5G, at a price of Rs 492 crore per MHz. Surely, these auctions will raise a lot of revenue for the government. To put this into perspective, the government revenue was to the tune of Rs 65,789 crore when the latest round of spectrum auctions happened in 2017.
But, there seems to be some resistance from telecom companies. Airtel, for example, may sit out the auctions if the base price doesn’t come down. "These prices are exorbitant given that the state of 5G ecosystem, is still nascent. So, we would hope that the Government brings down prices of spectrum and reserve prices of spectrum, and that is the stage we would look seriously at 5G," said Gopal Vittal, MD and CEO, India and South Asia, Bharti Airtel, said during the recent earnings call. It has also been reported that Vodafone-Idea Ltd. believes the 5G spectrum shouldn’t be auctioned before next year.
Then there is the small matter of the Chinese tech company Huawei.
While the government of India has not taken a final decision on the matter, Huawei has urged the authorities to make a decision on whether the company will be a part of the 5G rollout in India. Huawei India CEO, Jay Chen has reportedly said that this is the right time for the telecom department to make the decision. Huawei has been in close engagement with the telecom department for close to 8 months now, something Chen believes was positive. Telecom Minister RS Prasad has already said that the department will take a final call on whether Huawei will participate in the 5G rollout. The backdrop for all this is the ban on Huawei in the US, for fears that the company can spy on global citizens and the close proximity to the Chinese government.
Much ado about nothing?
Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. 5G, also the fifth generation mobile networks, will offer significantly faster internet speeds—as much as 20 times faster. It is not faster 4G, but offers a lot more. The other advantage of 5G would be the better management of voice traffic, which means more devices will be able to connect with every single tower, no call drops and significantly higher call quality. With 5G, smart cities and interconnected smart devices would become a reality.