Indonesia wants to speed up its journey to 5G but once again the lack of spectrum is acting as a brake on its ambitions.
Communications and Information Minister Johnny G Plate has vowed to accelerate the release of frequencies for 5G deployment, which would be a "game-changer."
The new network would become the "backbone of digital transformation and a key enabler of economic growth," he said in a speech to an online event on Thursday.
The ministry aims to free up 2047MHz for 5G use by 2024, but so far just 1310MHz has become available, according to the government's 5G task force.
A recent breakthrough was the passage of the Omnibus Telecom Law, which provides for spectrum and infrastructure sharing. It also requires the shutdown of analog TV over the next two years, freeing up the valuable 700MHz band.
The government wants to put the prime 3.5GHz band at the center of its 5G plans, but the shortage means it is likely to deploy almost every other 5G spectrum band – the 800 and 900MHz bands for coverage, the 1.8, 2.3, 2.6, 3.3 and 3.5GHz for capacity, and the 26 and 28GHz for extra capacity, as Plate describes it.
He said the underlying strategy was to develop 5G on the back of "adequate, accessible, affordable 4G," making it "imperative" to farm and refarm 4G and 5G spectrum to meet the 2047MHz target by 2024.
But availability is not the only spectrum problem. The 3.5GHz band is occupied by fixed satellite, also a piece of the national broadband strategy, creating an interference problem.
The $550 million 150Gbit/s SATRIA satellite, due to launch in Q3 2023,will deliver satellite broadband to rural districts, including 12,500 villages currently without any internet access.
Denny Setiawan, head of the 5G task force, says trials are underway with Telkom to test the "technical parameters" for co-existence in the 3.5GHz band.
"It is quite a difficult trial," he admitted. Satellite is important in rural areas, he said "but how to make it happen, that is something we need to study technically and economically."
On the other hand, he doesn't think 5G is economic in rural areas. "5G is for big cities and satellite is for rural."
Hari Venkatarmani, a partner at AT Kearney, said Indonesia could get to 100 million 5G subscribers and create $1.8 billion in value for the economy by 2025 if it can ready itself to start service by 2022.
"It is possible if we can sort out some of the early issues and get to a launch really quickly," he said.
"But it's going to be really critical to find the right spectrum bands."
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— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading