India has seen another twist in the ongoing saga of 5G rollout as local reports indicate that field trials for 5G may be delayed yet again.
The big three operators – Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio Infocomm – are reportedly about to write to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to ask for more time to submit their respective proposals.
Considering that the proposal deadline is 10 January, this is certainly last-minute, though the amount of documentation needed by DoT – relating to plans for rural, semi-urban and urban areas and including vendor contributions – is apparently too demanding to be finished on time. Thus the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) will write a letter to the DoT this week, though it’s not yet clear what new date COAI will propose.
The trials are now close to a year behind schedule after the first attempt to get them under way was delayed over issues that included pricing and trial tenure. An attempt by Ravi Shankar Prasad to start trials within 100 days of his appointment as minister for communications in June came to nothing as operators requested guidance on whether major Chinese vendors would be allowed to take part. They were, but the guidance came in late 2019.
Further hopes expressed by Anshu Prakash, a secretary in the telecom department of the Ministry of Communications, that trials would be held by this month now look unlikely to become reality, though talks between vendors and operators relating to joint proposals for 5G field trials are apparently under way.
Meanwhile 5G auctions loom in the coming months, though whether the government-set reserve prices or the rumoured date of April will remain the same is a question that cannot be definitively answered.