India is unlikely to keep its date with 5G services as the spectrum auction seems to have been delayed again.
The government was planning to hold the 5G spectrum auction in June, with commercial launch on August 15, India's Independence Day.
The key reason for the delay is that the government is unable to decide whether to allocate spectrum directly to enterprises for 5G private networks or to auction it.
Push me, pull you
In May, the Digital Communications Commission, the highest decision-making body of the Department of Telecommunications, approved the 5G spectrum auction in line with the recommendations of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).
However, the Union Cabinet has yet to clear it. Moreover, even after cabinet approval, it may take over a month for the government to issue the notice inviting applications, appoint an agency to conduct the auction, and finalize terms and conditions.
With the first week of June already over and the Union Cabinet still to approve the recommendations, there is little doubt that the 5G spectrum auction will be delayed.
Piece of the pie
It has been reported that several industry bodies and technology players are urging the government to allocate 5G spectrum to them to accelerate enterprise digital transformation. TRAI had recommended "all options" for private networks.
Several Indian technology companies, including Tech Mahindra, HCL Technologies, Wipro, Infosys and Tata Communications, are keen to play a role in the private 5G sector and are trying to get spectrum directly from the government.
Tata Communications is likely to participate in the auctions because it already owns the Internet Service Provider (ISP) license.
What does a delay in the 5G launch mean for India? Service providers don't seem to be in a hurry to launch 5G services, so a delay is not hurting them.
This is mainly because of a lack of killer use cases, especially in the consumer segment. Recently, Bharti Airtel CEO Gopal Vittal said in an analyst call that commercial 5G service will see a limited rollout in 2022 and 2023 because the ecosystem is not developed.
However, it's a different situation for enterprise, including industry 4.0, autonomous vehicles, remote surgery and so on. Private networks are one of the major drivers for 5G, and hence the persistence by Indian telcos to achieve a monopoly when it comes to spectrum.
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— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading