With Mobile Congress India in full swing, concerns about the prospects for 5G, among other issues, are being aired by a number of major Indian players.
At the inaugural address of the India Mobile Congress, Vodafone Idea chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla sounded a number of optimistic notes, highlighting the speed with which the country has digitised and significant infrastructure investments by the big three operators, but also called for an “enabling regulatory environment”.
Bharti Enterprises vice chairman Rakesh Bharti Mittal was less circumspect, pointing out that high spectrum prices and the cost of deploying networks are expected to take a toll on the cash-strapped telecommunications sector. He also noted that 75 per cent of the cost of deploying optical fibre in the country for high-speed broadband is taken up by fees charged by local authorities.
With 5G rollout on the way and capex expenditure high, but current ARPUs much lower than many other major economies, not to mention ongoing litigation in the telecoms sector – and of course, massive data demand to address – this is clearly a challenging time for India's operators.
So will government listen? Possibly. The Indian government is undertaking a reform of pricing of spectrum, according to telecommunications and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, but with spectrum auctions due in this financial year, this will have to be quick. That said, his announcement of the auction timetable indicates a delay from the original plan to hold auctions this calendar year.
There were also hints that Rakesh Bharti Mittal's concerns over fibre might be addressed, in particular right of way issues that mean FTTH often incurs charges from state governments and municipalities.