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Jio 5G launch in 2021 or not, India late in global race

Manu Kaushik     December 22, 2020

At the recent India Mobile Congress (IMC), Reliance Industries' chairman Mukesh Ambani announced his telecom venture Jio's plans to launch 5G technology next year. "Jio will pioneer the 5G revolution in India in the second half of 2021. It will be powered by indigenous-developed network, hardware and technology components. 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," Ambani had said. Fair enough!

India can still potentially lead the fourth industrial revolution, but it's already lagging the world in 5G. How?

While Indian government is still mulling over 5G trials, countries like China, South Korea, and US have raced ahead in 5G deployments. Last week, a report by Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) said that 135 live 5G services are available in Europe, Middle East, Africa, Americas, and Asia Pacific. There are about 412 operators in 131 countries who were investing in 5G around mid-December, the report added.

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Interestingly, the report said that within mid-band, millimetre, and low-band, the 700 MHz (megahertz) band is increasingly becoming important with 36 auctions or assignments expected in this particular spectrum band by end-2022. It may be noted that the Union Cabinet in India had last week announced spectrum auction of 700 MHz (megahertz), 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2300 MHz, and 2500 MHz before March next year.

Although the auction doesn't include mid-band (3300-3600 MHz) spectrum, which is globally popular for 5G deployments at the moment, it's now believed that Jio might buy 700 MHz in the upcoming auction to fulfil its 5G ambitions - unless the government announced the auction of 5G spectrum (3300-3600 MHz) before March 2021.

China has particularly taken the lead in 5G. It has scaled up the number of 5G base stations from 0.1 million in 2019 to over 0.7 million in November this year. The target is to reach 1.7 million by end-2021. As per the latest Ericsson Mobility Report, out of 220 million expected global 5G subscriptions by the end of 2020, China will account for 175 million (or 80 per cent) of those subs.

ALSO READ: Jio, Airtel, Voda Idea may have to cough up Rs 50,000 crore for March spectrum auction

Historically, India has been laggard in introducing new telecom technologies. At the time of 2G, for instance, India launched it almost a decade after the developed countries. In the case of 3G, this gap went down to about eight years, and subsequently to five years for 4G. Last year in April, South Korea became the first country to deploy 5G networks on a large scale. If Jio launches 5G next year, India will still be late by about two years. Though some experts argue that India could benefit from being late in the game since the 5G use cases are still under development, and India could learn from the experience of other countries.

Analysts say that India's 5G launch is dependent on a host of factors, including the developments in China. "In the case of 5G, India's development will be linked to affordable equipment, spectrum pricing, increasing use cases, and revenue opportunities. India is also a price-conscious and mass-market like China. We believe device and BTS (base transceiver station) ecosystem in India would be influenced by China," Motilal Oswal Financial Services said in an October report.

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