Why 5G investment is not a top priority for Indian mobile operators?

Telecom industry stakeholders — including Abhay Savargaonkar, CTO of Bharti Airtel and PK Bhatnagar, president of Technology at Reliance Jio – at the 5G India Forum do not have a clue about the possible launch date of 5G in India.

The reason for the deep silence about 5G strategies or 5G network roll out plans is because of the huge crisis faced by India telecom operators. Indian telecom operators’ gross revenue fell 8 percent to Rs 61,089 crore in Q4 2017 thanks to free offers.

India will not even conduct a spectrum auction during the current financial year because of the financial health of telecom operators. Indian telecom regulator TRAI is keen to sell its 5G spectrum this year – but there are no takers.

US-based research firm TBR says the U.S., Korea and China will dominate the 5G market in the initial phase. Strategy Analytics says there will be just 600 million 5G subscribers in 2021 globally.

There are strong indications that 5G smartphones will not be ready before 2019. Plus, 5G use cases like IoT is not a hot topic for Indian enterprises and their CIOs.
COAI seminar on 5G in IndiaRecent announcements about 5G in India should have cheered the 5G equipment makers such as Nokia, Ericsson, ZTE, Huawei, among others, and chipset companies like Intel and Qualcomm. But Indian telecoms are not yet ready for taking a plunge into 5G. They do not want to burn their fingers from their 3G investment. India has just 106 million 3G subscribers at present.

Nokia’s BSNL pact and Airtel’s 5G trials with Huawei are to yet to change the current mood of the telecom sector. “How telecom operators can spend more if the monthly ARPU is Rs 79 for GSM operators. They are making this money even after launching 4G,” said a senior official with a top telecom operator.

COAI, the apex industry body representing major telecom, internet, technology and digital services companies, hosted a meeting of international experts on ‘Catalysing 5G in India’ on 27 March, 2018 in New Delhi, through its 5G India Forum.

More than 300 delegates from across the globe participated in these meetings with the largest Indian participation, ever. This ascertains that companies working on 5G products are on track for commercialization of 5G services in 2019, said COAI.

Edward Tiedemann, senior VP of Qualcomm; Lorenzo Casaccia, VP of Qualcomm; Puneet Jain of Intel; Ulrich Dropmann, chief technology officer of Nokia; Asbjorn Grovlen, researcher, Standardization at Ericsson; were part of the meeting.

“The 5G technology evolution is expected to enable new services, connecting new industries, various forms of devices, and empower new user experiences, to support expanded connectivity needs for the next decade and beyond,” said Aruna Sundararajan, secretary, Department of Telecommunications.

“The new standards finalised by 3GPP and this meeting of experts will enable Indian telcos to transition to new technologies while ensuring that the demands of various sectors is well met,” said Rajan S Mathews, director general of COAI.

Image caption: (L-R) Rajan S Mathews, DG, COAI; Ulrich Dropmann, CTO of Nokia; Aruna Sundararajan, secretary of DoT; Edward Tiedemann, Sr VP, Qualcomm and UB Desai, director, IIT Hyderabad