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India, a country known for its rapid technological advancements, has embarked on its journey towards embracing the next significant upgrade in telecom networks – 5G. As of October 1, 2023, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated India’s first commercial 5G network, marking a significant milestone in the country’s tech evolution. However, the road to 5G in India has been a long one, filled with challenges and innovations.
The Road to 5G
India’s pursuit of 5G began several years ago, with proposals regarding the spectrum being issued as early as August 2018. Despite these early initiatives, the three largest telecommunications companies in India—Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel, and Vodafone Idea (Vi)—estimate that widespread availability of 5G won’t happen until at least 2024.
The Initial Approach of Telecom Companies Towards 5G
Airtel and Jio, two of India’s leading private telecom companies, have taken different approaches in their 5G endeavors. Airtel, the first to introduce 5G services in India, adopted the 5G Non-StandAlone (NSA) technology, leveraging its existing 4G core network. This strategic move gave Airtel the advantage of being the first to launch 5G, but it comes with limitations in terms of network speed, quality, and capacity.
Conversely, Jio invested in developing its indigenous 5G core, enabling it to launch its network using 5G StandAlone (SA) technology. SA networks offer superior speed, capacity, and quality compared to NSA networks. While both Airtel and Jio have made strides in providing 5G coverage, Airtel is set to eventually launch a 5G core network.
Vodafone Idea (Vi), on the other hand, is exploring options to follow Airtel’s path, although it lacks the spectrum required for a nationwide 5G rollout. The company is considering dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS) technology as a potential solution.
The Aspirations of Telecom Companies Towards 5G Mass Adoption
Airtel claims to already have one million 5G customers, while Jio has not disclosed its customer statistics yet. The intense competition between these giants is expected to drive India towards widespread 5G adoption by the latter half of 2024.
Jio has set an ambitious target to complete its 5G rollout by December 2023, while Airtel aims for around March 2024. Given the scale of these projects, both companies may require some flexibility in their timelines.
Challenges on the Path to 5G Adoption
While the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) remains optimistic about implementing 5G across the country, they acknowledge several hurdles. Two critical components for successful network expansion are fiberization and tolerization. The implementation of amended Right of Way (RoW) guidelines by the government aims to facilitate faster deployment of telecom infrastructure for a nationwide 5G network. However, challenges persist at the state and local authority levels in terms of execution.
The collaboration of state and local government agencies in providing RoW for 5G equipment installation is crucial. Overcoming these challenges may result in minor delays, but they are unlikely to significantly impact the broader 5G deployment timeline.
What Can We Expect From 5G in India?
Initial 5G experiences in India have been met with a mix of reactions from users. Reported download speeds on 5G networks have reached an average of 500 Mbps, as measured by Ookla. While this is impressive, it represents only a fraction of 5G’s full potential, which can reach speeds of up to 20 Gbps.
It’s important to note that India’s 5G journey is still in its early stages, and challenges exist. However, as telecom companies improve their 5G networks, it’s expected that customer loyalty and financial gains will follow.
Despite the excitement surrounding 5G, India has not fully achieved ubiquitous 4G service. While on paper, all three major telecom companies claim over 99% coverage, the actual 4G speeds lag behind the global average.
India’s current 4G speeds are only a fraction of the theoretical limit, ranking the country in the lower third of global 4G speeds. This context suggests that while 5G holds promise, its game-changing potential may take time to realize fully.
The Path Forward
India’s telecom landscape is poised for a significant transformation with 5G. With millions of 5G-capable smartphones already in circulation and increased digital services usage expected, India’s app industry and sectors like health tech, cloud gaming, and edtech are likely to experience substantial growth.
While 5G is not without its challenges and the full extent of its impact may take time to materialize, it has the potential to elevate India’s digital economy to new heights. As the telecom giants continue their 5G rollout, the future of India’s tech landscape looks promising.
FAQs About 5G Adoption in India
Q: When did India launch its first commercial 5G network? A: India’s first commercial 5G network was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on October 1, 2023.
Q: Which Indian telecom company was the first to introduce 5G services? A: Bharti Airtel was the first telecom company in India to introduce 5G services, leveraging 5G Non-StandAlone (NSA) technology.
Q: How does 5G Non-StandAlone (NSA) differ from 5G StandAlone (SA) technology? A: 5G NSA uses an existing 4G core network to carry its 5G network, whereas 5G SA has its indigenous 5G core. SA networks offer superior speed, capacity, and quality.
Q: What is the timeline for widespread 5G adoption in India? A: India is expected to see widespread 5G adoption by the latter half of 2024, driven by competition between telecom giants Airtel and Jio.
Q: What are the major challenges hindering 5G adoption in India? A: Challenges include fiberization and tolerization, as well as execution hurdles at the state and local authority levels. Collaborative efforts with state and local governments are crucial to overcome these challenges.
Q: What can we expect from 5G in India in terms of speed? A: Initial 5G experiences in India have reported download speeds averaging 500 Mbps, with the potential for speeds up to 20 Gbps as the technology matures.
Conclusion: The 5G Revolution in India
India’s journey towards 5G adoption is well underway, with the inauguration of the country’s first commercial 5G network in 2023. While the road to 5G has been long and filled with challenges, the efforts of leading telecom companies, such as Airtel and Jio, are driving India closer to widespread 5G availability.
The choice between 5G Non-StandAlone (NSA) and 5G StandAlone (SA) technology has positioned these telecom giants differently. Airtel’s early adoption of 5G NSA gave it a head start, while Jio’s investment in an indigenous 5G core promises superior network quality in the long run.
Despite challenges in infrastructure deployment, India’s 5G journey holds promise. Initial download speeds are impressive, and millions of 5G-capable smartphones are already in circulation. This technology has the potential to transform India’s digital landscape, boosting sectors like health tech, cloud gaming, and edtech.
As the competition intensifies and telecom companies refine their 5G networks, India is on the brink of a technological revolution that could elevate its digital economy to new heights. The path forward may have hurdles, but the destination is one of innovation and progress.