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NEW DELHI :

Telecom service providers are still far from meeting the government’s target of deploying 10,000 5G base stations every week, with the top two carriers managing to set up only about a third of the weekly target so far.

Telecom minister Ashwini Vaishnaw asked telcos to ramp up the installation of 5G cell sites from 2,500 a week last month to 10,000 so that 5G services are available at the earliest.

Industry executives said the rollout of about 3,500 5G sites a week is in line with supplies from telecom network gear providers. Production capacity is being ramped up to meet demand, they added.

“Our 5G network rollout is happening as per plan. We are rolling out 1,500–1,600 sites a week. We plan to ramp up as equipment supplies increase," an Airtel spokesperson said, adding that the telco has rolled out 5G in Gurugram on Tuesday.

Airtel acquired over 1 million 5G customers since it launched the services in eight cities in early October.

A Reliance Jio spokesperson said Jio is on track to complete the pan-India deployment of 5G by December next year. “We are ahead of plans at this stage. We are deploying over three times more 5G cells every week than others, and the pace is picking up on a daily basis. However, we are launching services in an area only after substantial coverage is achieved and not with the mere presence of a radiating tower."

India’s largest telecom service provider Reliance Jio started 5G services early last month via an invite-only beta launch in key metros. Last week, Jio extended 5G coverage to Bengaluru and Hyderabad. Network equipment makers Nokia and Ericsson said they were increasing local production to meet demand. More than 95% of the telecom service providers’ requirements of 5G telecom gear were being met by the local production capacities of the European gear providers, executives said.

Nokia India’s Chennai facility meets domestic demand for network equipment, besides exports. Ericsson India has tied up with contract manufacturer Jabil Circuits to build its local production capacity. However, a section of industry insiders said setting up 10,000 sites a week may take time as more production lines have to be set up.

“Even at 3,500 sites in a week, it isn’t a slow pace of rollout. Whatever production is being done at the local factories of vendors is being deployed for telcos. In a few weeks, when the number of sites increases, it will be perhaps the fastest 5G rollout anywhere in the world," a senior executive of a vendor firm said, seeking anonymity.

According to the government, 10,000 base stations per week is a realistic target, and the department of telecommunications was providing all necessary support.

“It’s not a hard and fast goal that they have to do 10,000 a week, and we understand that it won’t be a linear curve of rollouts, and we’re aware of the issues that they have to get equipment and provide connectivity," a senior official said, asking not to be named.

“We’re supporting them in every way, but if they scale up earlier, the increase (in coverage) will be exponential," he said, adding that the real push in rollouts is expected to be seen January-February onwards.

To be sure, carriers have to comply with rollout obligations set out in the license conditions issued by the government for any technology or service. For the 700 MHz band, DoT has set the coverage of 10% of district headquarters or towns in non-metros and 40% of a metro area by the end of the first year from the date of the license. The 700 Mhz band is being used by Jio for 5G standalone or SA. For the 3.5 GHz band, which is being used by Airtel for 5G non-standalone or NSA, the commercial launch of 5G services must take place in one town in a non-metro area and anywhere in a metro area, by the end of the first year of receiving the licence.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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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