Parliamentary Panel on 5G in India: Where does it stand?

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You’ve seen the 5G ads floating around on TV or in the newspaper. You might have also heard of the 5G network plans, or about the latest 5G smartphones ready to be shipped to India in 2021. Sure, the anticipation has been built.

But where is 5G in India?

If that is the question on your lips, then you’re not alone. Just last month, the standing committee of Lok Sabha on Information Technology released a report asking the same question of the Department of Telecommunications (DoT). Does their report give us a glimpse into the future of India’s 5G roll-out? Let’s find out.

5G in India: Who Hit the Snooze Button?

There’s been a delay in launching commercial 5G in India and there’s no denying that.

As per the Department of Telecommunication (DoT), India should have been 5G-ready by as early as 2018. Three years on, we are still scrambling for 4G networks. Recently, in a list compiled by Global Mobile Suppliers Association ending January 2021, 61 countries were found to already have commercially available 5G networks.

For a global superpower to not find itself on such a list paints a worrisome picture. But it’s not unprecedented at all. In fact, India has been fashionably late when it comes to adopting next-gen technologies. 2G was four years late, 3G almost by ten years, and 4G was deployed seven years after the world had its first connection.

So, where’s the delay?

Among the chief observations made by the parliamentary panel on the status of 5G in India, five key roadblocks have been identified thus far: inadequate spectrum availability, exorbitant spectrum pricing, poor development of test cases, deficient back-haul capacity and low reach of optical fibre across the nation.

All in all, the panel notes that ‘sufficient preparatory work has not been undertaken for launching 5G services in India’ – be it the reserve price of 5G auction not in line with India’s per capita income and the price authorized by other countries, or the annoying lack of formal approvals on 5G testing despite major telecom players have submitted applications for the same in January 2020.

What’s encouraging is that the likes of Airtel and Jio are ready to roll out 5G services by September 2021. But a lack of approvals means they will probably have to skip the testing phase completely. Alternatively, they will have to wait till October 2021 for 5G trials, as per the latest stipulation by DoT. The DoT also told the parliamentary committee that selected areas in India with adequate demand to justify capital expenditure on 5G deployment can expect some form of the roll-out in late 2021 or early 2022.

Worryingly, as India keeps sleeping on the global 5G revolution, thrust areas like healthcare, education, safety, fintech, agriculture, IoT and more will keep suffering from the ignominy of lagging behind other nations – even neighbours like Nepal which are ready to roll out 5G as early as mid-July! 

But India Can Still Wake Up

If India remains as bullish as a tiger on its Digital India mission, then you need not worry. As the parliamentary panel notes, all hope is not lost yet – as long as we expedite the approvals and the DoT chalks out a clear roadmap for 5G deployment.

At STL, we favour optimism in every given case. After all, that is what the future is all about. As a leading aggregator of digital networks, we too are invested in expediting 5G deployment in India by developing wireless gear critical for backend 5G infrastructure and teaming up with telcos like Airtel to develop 5G-ready optical fibre networks across India.

So, here’s what we think will happen for the necessary 5G ecosystem to take shape in the country without any further delay.

Firstly, all necessary approvals, right from testing to auction pricing, will be accelerated to provide a stable launchpad to the telcos. The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has already taken a step in this direction by chopping down the notice period for telcos from one year to six months. This spells good news for operators who can start commercially testing their 5G networks by September and foresee a quicker RoI growth.

Secondly, the DoT will also initiate a dialogue with the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Space to quickly earmark the allocation of requisite spectrum waves. As per the directive of the broadcasting industry, a 100 MHz buffer zone between 5G frequencies and radio/TV frequencies will also be maintained to prevent any disturbance & disruption.

Thirdly, and simultaneously, the telecom laws of the country will also undergo an overhaul. This will enable smoother implementation of 5G and address issues such as net neutrality, consumer rights and traffic management of differential pricing in the context of IoT – an area that will see massive adoption thanks to 5G.

Ultimately, the citizens are eager to embrace the many possibilities that the 5G revolution will bring forth: multi-Gbps speeds, huge network capacity, increased availability & ultra-low reliance. In fact, by 2026, there will be 350 million subscribers in India All we need is for the sleeping giant to wake up & rule the roost on 5G.

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