Home / Industry / Telecom /  Rollout pace to define 5G success in India

NEW DELHI : The speed of rollout will determine which telco will take the leadership in 5G in India, said Harri Holma, a Nokia veteran and fellow at Nokia Bell Labs.

Considering 5G as an even battleground for Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel which have purchased pan-India 5G airwaves, Holma said the operator with higher radio capacity and greater efficiency in spectrum use would benefit the most, adding the type of 5G architecture—non-standalone (NSA) or standalone (SA)—may not matter.

“What matters, is rollout speed. It’s not about the architecture but who’s providing more radio capacity, using new spectrum most efficiently, which will be the differentiating factor. I don’t know who is going to the fastest here but the rollout speed, that is what is going to define success," Holma said.

“The rollout speed is defining how fast you can make the signal available ubiquitously," he added, underlining that operator execution will lead to customers getting high-speed connectivity on 5G.

Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel, the largest and second-largest carrier in India respectively, will be going head-to-head in 5G launch in the coming months. Jio is targeting a Diwali launch in several cities including the metros of Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata, while Airtel plans to begin 5G services this month or early next month.

While Jio plans to provide pan-India 5G coverage on its SA network by 2023-end, Airtel is aiming to cover urban-India by December next year. Both carriers are yet to announce tariff plans for 5G services, even as Jio has said it will provide ‘affordable’ 5G services.

Besides tariffs, availability of affordable devices will be a factor. However, Holma said, “5G device penetration is already at 10%.

So, out of 850 million smartphones, 80 million can be on 5G in the first year, which could very well be 100 million by next year."

This could bring India alongside many developed global markets in terms of 5G adoption in a short span of time, which will be a shift from previous trends of the country lagging 5-6 years behind global markets, he said.

Estimates from research firm Omdia suggest that globally, there were about 800 million 5G subscribers as of June, a number set to rise to 1 billion by the year end.

The rate of adoption of 5G services in India could be much faster when compared to the adoption of 4G services, he said.

“India 5G penetration may be one year or one and a half years behind the advanced markets like Europe, or the US, so it’s following a rapid trajectory. In a year’s time, India could be well ahead of Europe in a year’s time," he said.


Gulveen Aulakh

Gulveen Aulakh is Senior Assistant Editor at Mint, serving dual roles covering the disinvestment landscape out of New Delhi, and the telecom & IT sectors as part of the corporate bureau. She had been tracking several government ministries for the last ten years in her previous stint at The Economic Times. An IIM Calcutta alumnus, Gulveen is fluent in French, a keen learner of new languages and avid foodie.
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