The Indian government’s department of telecommunications (DoT) will shortly announce the spectrum bands for the rollout of the fifth-generation mobile networks or 5G, an official from the department said at an event earlier this week.
Speaking at the India Mobile Congress 2020 (IMC), held from December 8-10, 2020, DoT official K Ramchand confirmed that the department was in consultations with various ministries such as the defence, broadcasting and space ministries, over spectrum allocation.
“We have to sit together and see how spectrum in different bands can be used in a coordinated and shared way,” said K Ramchand, member (technology), DoT, at the virtual event.
Ramchand added that the 5G network could work sub-gigahertz (GHz), 600MHz (megahertz), mid and millimetre bands. “This will take some time, but I am sure that, shortly, we will come out with the announcement of the 5G bands,” Ramchand added.
Besides consumer and enterprise telecommunication services, 5G will be used for defence, aerospace and television and radio broadcasting as well. Given that each of these requires a dedicated spectrum to operate without interference, the broad spectrum is divided up based on the frequencies.
While there is no date yet, the announcement that spectrum bands would be launched soon comes after reports indicating auctions could be held between January-March next year. However, it is unclear whether airwaves for the 5G wireless service will be sold immediately.
Earlier this week, Reliance Industries and Reliance Jio chairman Mukesh Ambani urged the government to accelerate the rollout of 5G in the country, to help India maintain its lead as the most “digitally connected nation in the world”. Ambani claimed that Reliance Jio would pioneer India’s 5G revolution in the second half of 2021.
At the same event, Bharti Airtel founder Sunil Mittal said India won’t be ready for 5G services in the next 2-3 years.
While operators like Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea have largely phased out 3G networks, 2G users still form a large chunk of their user base. Approximately 40% and 50% respectively for Airtel and Vodafone Idea. These two telcos have however maintained that globally, even the leading economies which have introduced 5G services, still maintain some 2G infrastructure. So there is no question of phasing out 2G completely.
These telcos have time and again reiterated that the ecosystem for 5G is not ready and its spectrum pricing will be unaffordable. According to Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA), 12-13% users will continue to use 2G handsets till 2025 in India. On the other hand, Ambani continues to make claims about making India “2G mukt”.
Earlier this week at IMC 2020, Ambani talked about 300 Mn mobile subscribers still being trapped in the 2G era, and how urgent policy steps are needed to ensure that these underprivileged people have an affordable smartphone so that they can receive Direct Benefit Transfers (DBT) in their bank accounts, and actively participate in the digital transformation.
Reliance Jio claims to have an indigenous 5G network solution ready for rollout. In October, Reliance began the trials for its 5G technology along with US-based Qualcomm and claimed to have achieved a speed of one gigabyte (GB) per second.
Besides telecom services, Jio is planning to roll out 5G enabled smartphones at an initial price of around INR 5,000, which will be subsequently lowered to around INR 2,500 as production scales up.