India hopes to run a spectrum auction by the end of this year and conduct 5G trials within the next 100 days, said Ravi Shankar Prasad, its new telecom minister.
The country has been targeting a launch of 5G services in 2020 to keep itself in the running against other nations rolling out the next-generation mobile technology. India's government is optimistic that 5G will play a crucial role in bridging the country's digital divide and providing education and health services in remote and rural areas. Previously, it had also been eyeing a role in the 5G standardization process, setting up a 5G testbed in partnership with the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and Indian Institute of Science (IISc).
But authorities have yet to carry out any 5G trials, leaving private-sector companies to fill the gap. Bharti Airtel, India's second-largest service provider, conducted the country's first 5G lab trial last year, while Vodafone Idea has announced it will team up with Ericsson and Huawei on 5G forays.
Despite taking these early steps, operators have voiced concern about the high cost of spectrum in an auction process. Balesh Shah, the CEO of Vodafone Idea, has described current pricing proposals as exorbitant. His criticisms were made after India's regulator recommended a base price of 4.92 billion Indian rupees ($71 million) per unit for the 5G spectrum (in the 3.3-3.6GHz band). With some 8,294MHz up for grabs, the auction could be India's biggest-ever spectrum sale.
In the meantime, the 5G trial is not going to be without controversy. India's operators and Huawei have sought clarification from the government on whether the controversial Chinese vendor -- deemed a security threat by opponents in the US and several other markets -- will be able to participate in the 5G market. India's government initially left Huawei's name off a list of vendors asked to join the 5G trial, but the company was subsequently sent an invitation. Allowing operators to build 5G networks using Huawei's equipment could be another matter.
Confusion persists, and the new administration has yet to make its position on Huawei entirely clear. Huawei has ended up on government blacklists in several countries amid the security concerns about its equipment and software.
Besides carrying out 5G trials and running a spectrum auction, the new administration will also work on reviving government-owned service provider, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL). Its other goal is to boost India's telecom manufacturing sector and make the country less reliant on overseas help.
- India's Long Road to 5G
- Airtel Conducts India's First 5G Lab Trial
- Why India Is Unlikely to Ban Huawei
— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading