According to the Indian government, India’s 5G rollout is the fastest in the world. As of July 30, 2023, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) reported that 308,466 5G base stations had been deployed. The government said that 5G has reached 738 districts and around 100 million users.
The Prime Minister launched 5G services on October 1, 2022, and within eight months, 200,000 sites covering 700 districts had been installed. There are now 28 states and 8 territories that have the 5G network up and running.
However, the Director General of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) said that revenue has not increased due to apps that generate 80% of the traffic not paying for the network.
India’s 5G Rollout: Fastest in the World
Sets World Record with Fastest Rollout
India launched 5G services on October 1, 2022, at the India Mobile Congress in New Delhi, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the network. Within a year, two of the country’s biggest telecom operators, Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel, had rolled out 5G services in nearly 10,000 cities and towns, covering almost 75 percent of the population. This is a remarkable achievement, considering that countries like the US, China, and South Korea took much longer to deploy 5G services. India has set a new world record for the fastest 5G rollout, surpassing China, which took 18 months to cover 70 percent of its population.
Covers all 28 States and 8 UTs
India’s 5G rollout is not limited to the urban areas but also extends to the rural and remote regions of the country. The government has announced that 5G services will be available in all 28 states and 8 union territories by March 2024. This will ensure that every citizen of the country can access the benefits of the next-generation network, regardless of their location. The government has also allocated Rs 12,195 crore for the BharatNet project, which aims to provide broadband connectivity to all 2.5 lakh gram panchayats in the country using optical fiber.
Impact on Telecom Industry
Revenues Not Picking Up as Expected
While 5G services have been launched in India, the telecom operators are yet to see a significant increase in their revenues. This is because the 5G tariffs are still not announced, and the operators are offering 5G services in their existing plans without any additional charges. This is a strategic move to attract and retain customers, as well as to test the network performance and customer feedback. However, this also means that the operators are not able to monetize their 5G investments, which are estimated to be around Rs 1.3 lakh crore for each operator. The operators are expected to announce 5G-specific tariffs in 2024, which may lead to a price hike of up to 10 percent for 5G services.
Concerns from Internet Companies and Lobbies
The launch of 5G services in India has also raised some concerns from internet companies and lobbies, who fear that the telecom operators may violate the principles of net neutrality and create a walled garden of services. Net neutrality is the concept that all internet traffic should be treated equally, without any discrimination or preference. However, some telecom operators have partnered with content providers and platforms to offer exclusive 5G services, such as cloud gaming, video streaming, and e-commerce. This may give an unfair advantage to these partners, and harm the competition and innovation in the internet ecosystem. Internet companies and lobbies have urged the government and the regulator to ensure that the 5G services are in compliance with the net neutrality rules and that the consumers have the freedom to access any content or service of their choice.
Benefits of 5G for India
Faster Mobile Speeds
One of the most obvious benefits of 5G for India is the faster mobile speeds that it offers. 5G can deliver speeds of up to 10 Gbps, which is 100 times faster than 4G. This means that users can download and upload large files, stream high-quality videos, and enjoy immersive experiences such as virtual reality and augmented reality on their mobile devices. 5G can also support a higher number of devices per unit area, which can reduce network congestion and improve the quality of service.
Another benefit of 5G for India is the improved connectivity that it enables. 5G can provide a more reliable and consistent network, with lower latency and higher availability. Latency is the time it takes for a data packet to travel from one point to another, and 5G can reduce it to less than 1 millisecond, which is essential for real-time applications such as online gaming, remote surgery, and autonomous vehicles. Availability is the percentage of time that the network is operational, and 5G can achieve up to 99.999 percent availability, which means that the network will be down for less than 5 minutes in a year.
Boost for Digital India
A third benefit of 5G for India is the boost that it can give to the Digital India initiative, which aims to transform the country into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. 5G can enable a plethora of new applications and services that can improve the lives of the citizens, such as smart cities, smart agriculture, smart healthcare, smart education, and smart governance. 5G can also create new opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship, as well as generate employment and economic growth. According to a report by Ericsson, 5G can contribute $240 billion to India’s GDP by 2030.
Future of 5G in India
Spectrum Allocation and Availability
One of the key challenges for the future of 5G in India is spectrum allocation and availability. Spectrum is the radio frequency band that is used to transmit and receive wireless signals, and it is a scarce and expensive resource. The government has not yet conducted the 5G spectrum auction, which is expected to take place in 2024. The operators have been demanding more spectrum at lower prices, as well as the availability of the mmWave band, which can offer higher speeds and capacities. The government has to balance the interests of the operators, the consumers, and the exchequer, and ensure that the spectrum is allocated fairly and efficiently.
Impact on Competitive Landscape
Another challenge for the future of 5G in India is the impact on the competitive landscape. The telecom industry in India is already consolidated, with only three private operators and one state-owned operator in the market. The launch of 5G services may further widen the gap between the operators, as some may have more resources and capabilities to invest in 5G than others. This may lead to a situation where some operators may dominate the 5G market, while others may lag or exit the market. The government and the regulator have to ensure that there is a level playing field for all the operators and that the consumers have a choice and a voice in the 5G market.