Indian operators split on 5G standards as Jio hints at 2021 launch

Indian operators split on 5G standards as Jio hints at 2021 launch

Reliance Industries chair Mukesh Ambani has hinted that Jio is planning a 5G launch before the end of 2021.

In a speech at the virtual India Mobile Conference (IMC) event, Ambani said that the operator would “pioneer the 5G revolution in India in the second half of 2021.”

“India is today among the best digitally connected nations in the world. In order to maintain this lead, policy steps are needed to accelerate the early rollout of 5G, and to make it affordable and available everywhere,” said Ambani.

On the issue of affordability, Ambani said: “As many as 300 million mobile subscribers in India are still trapped in the 2G era. Urgent policy steps are needed to ensure that these underprivileged people have an affordable smartphone … and actively participate in the Digital Economy.”

This attitude was mirrored by Jio’s rivals Airtel and Vodafone Idea (Vi), with the MD of the latter operator Ravinder Takkar noting that India’s digital divide had created “bottom-of-the-pyramid citizens” in rural areas who were not benefitting from digital growth.

“Rural tele-density is just 59% vs 134% urban tele-density and nearly 450 million existing mobile subscribers still are not connected to broadband or don’t own a smartphone”, noted Takkar.

The Economic Times quoted Ambani as saying that Jio planned to use network equipment and components that were designed and manufactured locally. The operator has pushed for India to develop its own 5G standards, on the basis that the country should not be dependent on “large-scale imports in this area of critical national need.” Ambani’s optimism is perhaps unsurprising given that Jio Platforms – the digital arm of Reliance Industries – claims to have developed and created a functional 5G system.

However, rival Bharti Airtel has argued that this could create interoperability issues as well as escalating costs, with CEO Gopal Vittal claiming that it would “lock India out of the global ecosystem and slow down the pace of innovation.” Airtel gave no indication of when it planned to launch 5G services.

India’s 5G auctions have now been delayed twice, with no spectrum yet allocated. The MDs of Vi and Jio have called for the government to disclose how much spectrum will be made available given the bandwidth required by 5G services, and have made the case for 5G spectrum to be priced reasonably given the government’s track record with setting excessively high reserve prices and imposing additional fees.

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