Indian 5G rollout promised by 2023 – but issues remain

Indian 5G rollout promised by 2023 – but issues remain

Is 5G rollout in India less than a year away? That could be the case after the Indian finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman suggested that operators will roll out fifth generation mobile services between 2022 and 2023 in her Union Budget 2022-23 speech on Tuesday.

The headline-making part of the announcement focused on how the required spectrum auctions will be held in 2022, and the belief that 5G technology can enable growth and job opportunities.

The minister also announced the launch of a design-led Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme for local manufacturing of 5G telecom equipment. This is the latest in a number of incentives linked to the PLI scheme, which is aimed at 13 ‘champion sectors’, including telecom equipment. The total outlay devoted to the scheme at its inception was said to be in the region of $23.541 billion.

The minister also announced an initiative to fund and enable affordable broadband and the extension of mobile service in rural and remote areas. This included plans to lay optical fibre in all villages by 2025.

All of which sounds encouraging. Indeed the three main operators, Reliance Jio, Vodafone Idea/Vi and Bharti Airtel, enjoyed a modest uptick in stock value on the news, as did a number of equipment vendors and service suppliers.

However, these operators are still piloting various 5G use cases using 5G trial spectrum. More importantly, there is the question of responses to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India's (TRAI) recent consultation paper on the sale of 5G spectrum. How will these be taken into account?

The paper has highlighted the fact that there is still a lot of debate about the, often conflicting, spectrum demands of satellite operators, mobile operators and government departments. The rollout and role of private networks is another of a number of issues that need to be resolved.

Most importantly, spectrum pricing, which has been so high in the past as to dampen enthusiasm for spectrum auctions, still needs to be sorted out.

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