The countdown for the next big thing in the telecom sector has begun. At the fourth edition of the India Mobile Congress (IMC), which is being held virtually this year due to the pandemic, Reliance Industries' (RIL) Chairman and Managing Director Mukesh Ambani decided to set the agenda for the domestic telecom sector - at least for the next one year.
In his speech on the first day of the three-day conference, Ambani said that his telecom venture, Reliance Jio will pioneer the 5G revolution in India in the second half of 2021. "It will be powered by indigenously developed network, hardware and technology components," Ambani added.
To introduce 5G in India, Ambani needs two things - spectrum to be made available to telcos, and 5G-ready infrastructure. The first aspect is beyond his control, but there is strong likelihood of government conducting 5G spectrum auctions early next year.
As far as 5G infrastructure is concerned, Jio has been working on that piece for quite some time. As Ambani mentioned in RIL's last annual general meeting (AGM) held in July, Jio is building its own 5G solutions, including hardware and software, through which it plans to compete with Huawei, Ericsson, Nokia and other proprietary telecom vendors. Ambani had also said that Jio will not only deploy these 5G equipment in its network but will also export them.
"Jio's 5G service will be a testimony to your inspiring vision of AtmaNirbhar Bharat. I can say with utmost confidence that 5G will enable India to not only participate in the fourth industrial revolution but also to lead it. Jio Platforms, with its family of over 20 start-up partners, has built world-class capabilities in artificial intelligence, cloud computing, big data, machine learning, internet of things, blockchain, etc," Ambani said at IMC today.
To elaborate, Jio has taken the O-RAN route to build its 5G solutions under which some components will be sourced from specialised vendors (like Qualcomm, Samsung, etc) while others are going to be developed in-house. Jio, for instance, acquired US-based Radisys in 2018 to build capabilities in system integration and network virtualisation.
However, deployment of O-RAN networks is still in nascent stage globally, and experts believe that Jio would require proprietary vendors for its telecom equipment needs, given its size (over 400 million subscribers, pan-India coverage).
Also, the fact that Jio has partnered with Google to develop cheap 5G smartphones shows that it's working on the back-end (equipment, software) and front-end (handsets) simultaneously so that by the time 5G services are rolled out, the end consumers would have affordable device in their hands. As per IDC, the average selling price (ASP) of 5G smartphone is expected to be $611 (Rs 45,000) in 2020 whereas Jio's smartphone is expected to cost under Rs 5,000.
Even as Ambani has announced a shorter deadline to launch 5G, his competitor Sunil Mittal, Chairman of Airtel, said at IMC 2020 that India will be ready for 5G in the next two-three years. From the time India aspired to take lead in the global 5G race, it's now believed that India should wait to deploy the next-generation of telecom technology since a delayed launch would help domestic telcos to learn from the mistakes of others.