India's Finance Minister has promised 5G service by 2022 or 2023, and the country now has a new feather in its cap: 5Gi is the country's first contribution to a global standard for mobile radio interface technologies. Computerworld India examines the country's journey towards 5G as telcos and residents prepare in their own ways.
According to Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Indians may have to wait until next year for 5G services.
"Required spectrum auctions will be held in 2022 to allow the roll-out of 5G mobile services in 2022-23," she said in her budget address for 2022 on February 1, 2022.
Late last year, Ashiwini Vaishnaw, the union minister for railways, communications and electronics, and information technology, predicted that the 5G spectrum would be available by April-May 2022. After the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) presents its report with recommendations, which is expected by mid-February, the final date will be revealed. Vaishnaw also hinted that the telecom sector's regulatory structure will see some changes in the future years.
Because the sector was not ready, telcos allegedly requested that the 5G spectrum auction be postponed until May 2022.
Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel, and Vodafone Idea were awarded new radio spectrum allocations for existing technologies by the Indian government in March 2021.
During the Times Now Summit 2021, Union Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw also stated that an entire "made in India" stack of 5G hardware and software is around 70-75 percent available, with the 5G stack being fully ready by February 2022.
Everything you need to know about 5G in India, including what it is, how Indian network operators are preparing for it, when the government will perform spectrum auctions, and when 5G services will be available.
What are 5G networks, and how do they work?
When 5G mobile networks arrive in India, they will use a new radio technology and network design to provide more bandwidth and lower latency than the current 4G (LTE) and 3G networks. Peak data speeds of up to 10 Gbps are promised in 5G, which is up to 100 times faster than 4G's 100 Mbps. Latency, or the time it takes for data to travel from a phone to a distant server, in 5G networks might be less than a millisecond, which is 60-120 times faster than 4G.
To take advantage of the high bandwidth and low latency, computing resources close to the mobile device would be required, so 5G might help drive the edge computing business forward. Private 5G networks may coexist with public networks, and public networks can be "sliced" into several virtual private networks, making the technology appealing in the enterprise.
What steps are Indian telecom companies doing to prepare for 5G?
India's network operators are collaborating with various equipment vendors on government-approved field trials to learn how 5G networks will behave in the real world and acquire expertise in establishing and maintaining them. They're also beefing up their network cores in anticipation of the increased traffic loads that 5G radio interfaces will bring.
Reliance Jio began its 4G service in 2016, bypassing rivals Airtel, Vodafone Idea, and BSNL's 2G and 3G offerings. It now hopes to be one of the first to deliver 5G service thanks to its advanced network architecture. Anshuman Thakur, Jio's strategy head, said in September 2019 that the company already has the requisite network and backhaul infrastructure in place and simply needed to invest in spectrum and equipment. Jio is also the only operator with an all-IP network, which is essential for the launch of 5G services. It will perform 5G trials with Samsung, the 4G network's supplier, and has announced that it would expand its 5G trial alliances to include Huawei, Ericsson, and Nokia.
Google said in July 2020 that it would invest $337 billion ($4.5 billion) in Jio to help the operator improve. Qualcomm and Intel are also on board with Jio's 5G strategy. Jio's hardware enablers are the last two: Qualcomm is expected to provide deep technology know-how and insights to help push the 5G concept forward. Intel's powerful edge computing technology is available across CPUs, and having access to it could help Jio speed up the 5G deployment. Google and Jio have reached a commercial deal to collaborate on a low-cost Android smartphone with 4G and possibly 5G capabilities.
Jio's end-to-end 5G solutions were built from the ground up utilising domestic technologies. While it hasn't revealed the specifics of its 5G solution, it plans to position itself as a provider of complete managed services for 5G systems in the near future.
Airtel has stated that it will conduct trials with Huawei, ZTE, Ericsson, and Nokia. It has deployed 100 hops of Huawei-supplied 5G technology transmission equipment, quadrupling its backhaul capacity, and has signed agreements with Cisco and Ericsson to speed up its core network in preparation for 5G service.
Vodafone Idea will undertake its trials alongside Huawei, ZTE, Ericsson, and Nokia, and is already employing Huawei's 5G AI technologies to enhance its 4G network's capabilities.
The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) allocated spectrum to Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel, and Vodafone Idea in May for six months of 5G experiments in the 700 Mhz, 3.5 GHz, and 26 GHz bands in chosen cities. The trial was supposed to expire in November 2021, but the Department of Transportation extended it until May 2022.
Airtel's #5Gforbusiness programme was established lately to demonstrate a wide range of enterprise-grade use cases leveraging high-speed, low-latency networks. Airtel will test 5G-based solutions with brands like Apollo Hospitals, Flipkart, and other manufacturing enterprises as part of this programme. These solutions will be implemented on Airtel's 5G test spectrum and will comprise use cases such as Smart Factory, Smart Healthcare, and Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality, among others. Demonstrations of use cases will take place in end-user locations as well as at Airtel's sophisticated 5G facility in Gurgaon.
The Department of Transportation had directed telecom service providers to perform 5G trials in semi-urban and rural areas so that 5G users are not restricted to metropolitan areas. Following this, Vodafone Idea performed 5G experiments in rural Gujarat, and Reliance Jio was given spectrum to conduct 5G trials in Jamnagar's semi-urban and rural areas.
The Department of Transportation established a committee in November to plan for the commercialization and monetization of 5G and the locally designed 5Gi standard. By March 2022, the committee must have received comments from stakeholders, including telecom operators and network providers, on both technologies.
What is 5Gi?
5Gi is a network standard developed by IIT Hyderabad and IIT Chennai and ratified by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). 5Gi will use the same spectrum and wavelengths as normal 5G.
5Gi was India's first contribution of radio interface technology to an ITU standard, according to the Telecommunications Standards Development Society. Along with 3GPP's 5G-SRIT and 5G-RIT, the ITU's 193 member states examined and approved 5Gi as the framework for the installation of 5G networks around the world earlier this year.
Rural communities frequently have to wait a long time to obtain new technologies that have been introduced in urban areas. However, because the 5Gi standard was designed to perform well in places with low population density, rural areas could reap the same benefits from 5G as cities.
For Indian telcos, 5Gi may not be good news. They've spent millions of dollars constructing their 5G infrastructure based on various standards over the years. If the Indian government makes 5Gi the default network standard, telcos will have to re-engineer their infrastructure to be 5Gi compatible, which might be a costly and time-consuming operation.
Before making a decision, the TRAI has urged the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) and telecom representatives to extensively evaluate the disadvantages and benefits of 5Gi. It's also looking at whether carriers can make the jump to 5Gi.
Jio has stated that it is willing to move to 5Gi if its vendors can provide 5Gi-compatible gear at a low cost, however Airtel has stated that it will not do so due to cost concerns.
In India, what spectrum will 5G use?
Network operators around the world will offer 5G service in a variety of frequency bands, including under 1 GHz, which offers a longer range from the cell tower and speeds of 50-250 Mbps; mid-band up to about 6 GHz, which offers a range similar to 4G and speeds of 100-900 Mbps; and millimeter-wave, which offers the highest speeds at shorter ranges in frequency bands of 20 GHz or higher. The rights to use these frequencies are controlled by governments, which normally auction licences to the highest bidders. For the time being, only low and mid-band frequencies are available in India for 5G.
The government auctioned spectrum in seven bands in March 2021, including certain renewals of existing licences: 700MHz, 800MHz, 900MHz, 1,800MHz, 2,100MHz, 2,300MHz, and 2,500MHz.
Operators can use the frequencies immediately for existing technologies such as GSM, WCDMA, or LTE, and must give one year's notice if they want to use them for a newer technology that must be based on international standards, according to the auction rules.
There were no takers for spectrum in the 700MHz band, just as there were in a similar auction in 2016. There were no bidders in the 2500Mhz band, either. Only three corporations participated in the auction, which raised $778 billion, significantly less than the government's goal of $3.92 trillion. BSNL, India's fourth mobile operator, did not participate in this round.
One probable explanation for why just one-third of the spectrum was sold is a lack of competition. Another factor is the government's demand for a high reserve price.
Reliance Jio, the wealthiest of the three operators, bought the most spectrum, as expected. It spent a total of $571 billion buying spectrum in the 800MHz, 1800MHz, and 2300MHz bands, totaling 133.75MHz in the 800MHz band, 74.60MHz in the 1800MHz band, and 280MHz in the 2300MHz band. The company's spectrum footprint has grown by 55 percent to 1,717MHz as a result of this. When the time comes, Reliance Jio is likely to utilise the spectrum for the 5G transition.
Bharti Airtel paid 187 billion for 355.45MHz of spectrum, while Vodafone Idea paid 19.9 billion for 11.80MHz.
TRAI has proposed that more spectrum between 3.3 to 3.4GHz and 3.425 to 3.6GHz be made available for 5G services. (The Indian Space Research Organization, ISRO, employs the 3.4 to 3.425GHz frequency range.) The Ministry of Defence, on the other hand, now uses the 3,300-3,400MHz range, leaving only 175MHz for network providers, which they claim is insufficient.
To tackle this dispute, as well as others concerning spectrum at higher frequencies utilised by ISRO, the government established a panel of secretaries in October 2020 to monitor spectrum allocation and construct an annual auction calendar to assist telecoms in planning. Members of the panel include representatives from the Department of Home Affairs, the Department of Space, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, and the Ministry of Railways.
The government may have to reconsider its pricing in the 3GHz band, as 5G spectrum in other countries is far cheaper. TRAI has set reserve prices for the 5G airwaves it plans to auction, but CLSA, a brokerage and investment firm, estimates that the base price per MHz in the 3400-3800MHz band in India is $70 million, compared to $26 million in Italy, $18 million in South Korea, $10 million in the United Kingdom, and $5 million in Australia.
When will India's 5G services be available?
All prior 5G dates have been missed; 5G networks were supposed to be operational in India by late 2021, but they have yet to appear.
In order for Indians to benefit from 5G services, they will need 5G-enabled phones or other devices, as well as 5G radio spectrum and network infrastructure from their network operators.
Despite the fact that 5G is still a long way off for us in India, we have already begun to plan for it. 5G capable devices account for over 22 percent of overall smartphone sales, according to CMR's India Mobile Handset Market Review Report for Q3 2021. OnePlus, OPPO, realme, Samsung, and vivo shipped 5G smartphones valued more than $3 billion in the third quarter of 2021.
Vivo topped overall 5G smartphone shipments with an 18% market share, thanks to the vivo Y72 and vivo Y21 series devices. Samsung is in second place with 16 percent. The Galaxy Z Fold3 and Galaxy Z Flip3 5G compatible devices did well this quarter. OPPO accounted for 11% of total 5G shipments, with the OPPO A54 and OPPO A15 Series accounting for the majority of the company's shipments.
Despite the fact that it appears to be a long way off, we finally have a date for the 5G spectrum auctions: April-May 2022. The success of the spectrum auctions is still up in the air, since carriers have expressed reservations about the predicted high prices. Even if the telcos are able to purchase the spectrum, installing 5G would take time because they will need to invest more and expand up their network equipment before they can offer service to everyone.