Will 5G be deployed in India by 2021?

Much has been talked about the next generation of technology standard for broadband cellular networks but commercialisation in India still looks like a far fetched dream.

“I assure you that Jio will pioneer the 5G revolution in India in the second half of 2021”, said Mukesh Ambani who was one of the keynote speakers in the fourth edition of IMC 2020 which went live virtually yesterday. The 5G roll out might be sooner than we expected. But the question remains of how will 5G be deployed in India without proper infrastructure, business models, cost, and other such aspects that come into play while discussing the deployment of the 5G network across India.

India who is battling with the economic recession now more than ever might not be able to catch up with the 5G plan. “I’m particularly very excited about the upcoming 5G which in the next two or three years should start to become the norm in the mobile broadband space as the world settles down on the 5G space pricing of the equipment comes down and importantly the devices start getting available in plenty”, said Sunil Bharati Mittal the Chairman of Bharti Enterprises who also happened to point out that India is still very underdeveloped in the 5G ecosystem.

Difference in the timeline of 5G deployment

While there might be differences in the estimation of time when 5G will be a full-fledged network in India the deployment of the same remains contradictory. Not only is India significantly backward than the rest of the countries but also battles with a huge digital divide between the rural and the urban.

Ravi Shankar Prasad the Telecom Minister said that India will be a One Trillion Economy in the next five years while another speaker today said that it aimed to be a Trillion dollars economy by 2035. 

While Ambani envisions restoring the fifth-generation wireless technology by the second half of 2021 others believe that it may still take two to three years to upgrade India to a 5G network and rightly so, as the digital divide in India is immense. 

Most of the industry experts are excited to bring about the 5G network to India, the business models and the infrastructure remains to be developed and built.

Challenges in deploying 5G 

The most challenging will be making 5G available, accessible, and affordable across India as pointed out by Neeraj Sharma the managing director of Accenture. “It will be powered by an indigenously developed network, hardware, and technology components. Jio’s 5G service will be a testimony to Atmanirbhar Bharat,” said Mukesh Ambani. He also said that Jio has developed a complete 5G solution from scratch and intends to launch a “world-class 5G service” in India using homegrown technologies and solutions. Ambani had claimed that the 4G will be easily upgraded to 5G. 

The idea of upgrading India “easily” from 4G to 5G might not be as easy as it looks. There remain significant challenges in doing so. 

“Today we have made considerable progress, but yet not where we need to be……we all know what needs to be done and this includes the band and amount of spectrum needed…managing the cost of spectrum simplifying the permissions and mitigating and removing RoW difficulties and cost,” said Sanjay Mashruwala the managing director of Reliance Jio Infocomm.

The 5G to be deployed must be affordable to the consumers and must come at a reasonable cost. And one of the main concerns is the affordability of the 5G network.

The 5G network will be successful if the aspects of IoT, AI, AR, VR, and cloud-native services are significantly developed.

The spectrum auction is expected to start by the first half of 2021, but the exact dates are yet to be fixed. Moreover, the government might be thinking of having 4G auctions in the first half of 2021 to renew the spectrum in a few states. If this happens the 5G deployment will be delayed further. The 5G spectrum auction date and time are unclear as Gopal Vittal the CEO and the managing director of Bharti Airtel India and South Asia had said that we will not be able to afford the reserve price if it is too high and shall not buy it at such a price as it might be because of the devices, the ecosystem still being very new and the current cost of the spectrum.

Besides these challenges, the major one is that millions of users in India today still use the 2G connection. We must bring these millions of users out of this network by ensuring that they have the most basic and essential device – a smartphone, to avail of such connections.

The 5G deployment seems like a major undertaking and the challenges that come with it might prove to take more than a year to resolve.



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