5G, or the fifth generation of technology standard for broadband mobile networks, is the fastest communication network available in the world. As against 4G speeds of 40-50 Mbps depending on the area and connectivity in India, 5G services are expected to support speeds of up to 300 Mbps or more. Catching up with countries like the US and China, India is all set to offer this service with telecom giants like Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio geared up to do so in a phased manner. Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Varanasi, Chandigarh, Delhi, Jamnagar, Gandhinagar, Mumbai, Pune, Lucknow, Kolkata, Siliguri, Gurugram, and Hyderabad have been identified for the first phase of the launch. In fact, Airtel has launched its 5G services in eight cities already. Dubbed Airtel 5G Plus, the network is supposed to be geared to provide 30x faster download speeds than LTE. Set to improve the way businesses and communication networks function, particularly those that depend largely on internet connectivity, 5G is expected to remove the glitches that lead to huge numbers of call drops and linkage issues.
The 5G launch in India is a part of the Digital India movement and aims to uplift mainly three sectors namely education, healthcare, and agriculture, along with infrastructure and logistics. To find out people’s expectations from 5G and how many are keen to upgrade to the new technology that promises better connectivity and faster downloading, LocalCircles conducted a national survey. The survey received over 29,000 responses from mobile service consumers located in 318 districts of India. 64% of respondents were men while 36% of respondents were women. 47% of respondents were from tier 1, 34% were from tier 2, and 19% of respondents were from tier 3, 4, and rural districts.
The first survey question asked mobile subscribers, “India will soon have 5G telecom services. How much more are you willing to pay for these services on a monthly basis?”. In response, 43% of respondents stated they were “not willing to pay anything more than current tariff for 3G/4G services” while another 43% indicated a willingness to pay up to 10% more tariff. Out of 10,019 respondents, just 10% indicated a willingness to pay 10-25% more tariff and another 2% showed a willingness to pay between 25-50% more tariff. The remaining 2% gave no clear answer.
55% of consumers that are likely to move to 5G services are willing to pay more for it, most only up to 10% more though
24% of respondents shared that they have no plans to buy a newly upgraded device in the foreseeable future while another 22% are as yet to make up their mind
The next survey question attempted to understand the status of devices that mobile subscribers currently have and if it is 5G compliant or if they will need to purchase a new device to avail of 5G services. The question asked respondents, “Most of the current phones/tablets are not likely to work with 5G services and hence will require consumers to purchase a device that supports 5G. When are you likely to do the same?” 20% of respondents indicated that they “already have a device that supports 5G”. Of the 9,965 respondents to this question, 4% shared plans to buy new suitable devices this year; 12% in the first half of 2023; 8% in the second half of 2023; the devices being expensive another 10% are hoping to buy in 2024. Almost one in four or 24% of respondents shared that they have no plans to buy a newly upgraded device in the foreseeable future while another 22% are as yet to make up their minds.
The Department of Telecommunication, Government of India nudged the operators as well as phone makers earlier this week to update with the latest technologies so that the 5G rollout can happen at the earliest. Samsung said that they are working with their operator partners and are committed to rolling out OTA updates across all its 5G devices by mid-November this year while Apple said that it will start rolling out 5G services to iPhone users in December this year.
Airtel’s website showed “Apple yet to update software” for all of Apple iPhones’ 12 to 14 models under its 5G compatible section. For Samsung too, many models were not ready, Airtel stated, while more than three dozen models of China’s Xiaomi and Vivo were shown as ready for use with its 5G service, according to Reuters. These are devices that fall in the category of the 20% of respondents who believe they have a 5 G-compliant device. Over time, a lot of devices will have to either become compliant or the subscribers will have to purchase 5G devices. Basis the findings of the survey, 46% of respondents are either reluctant or cannot say that they will upgrade their device even till the end of 2024 indicating that some other solution than mandatory device upgrade may be needed.
The majority mobile subscribers expect that upgrading to 5G service will lead to a reduction in call drop/connect issues, better network availability, and speed
In the final question in the survey, LocalCircles sought to understand mobile subscribers about their expectations of the 5G services. The question asked respondents, “based on your understanding so far, what should 5G offer for you to be able to spend the money on a 5G device and a more expensive service plan?” 19% expect a reduction in call drop and connectivity issues or an improved voice network (1); 5% improved availability of data network (2); 12% improvement in internet speed (3). Of the nearly 10,000 respondents, 3% are also hopeful that spam or unsolicited calls and messages will see a dip (4). For 39% of the respondent resolution to all four conditions are important before they decide to upgrade to 5G. Only 5% of respondents indicated that they were convinced that 5G would resolve all these issues while 17% did not have an opinion.
To summarise, while 5% of mobile subscribers are convinced about moving to 5G, more than three-fourths of respondents expect 5G services to address one or more issues like speed, network availability and call drop/connect issues. Given that 4G has not improved the quality of calls or internet speed despite consumers having invested in the new generation of mobile phones and other gadgets, there is a general sense of cautiousness about investing in mobiles and other 5 G-compatible devices. 20% of mobile subscribers surveyed already have a 5 G-compliant device and 4% are planning to buy a new device this year to avail of the new services being rolled out. Assuming 5G addresses one or more of the issues highlighted in the survey, another 20% are likely to purchase a 5 G-compliant device in 2023. Similarly, while 55% of respondents are willing to pay up to 10% more for 5G service plans as and when they have a ready device, 43% are clearly opposed to paying anything additional for a 5G service plan.
The need of the hour clearly is for the Government to work with telecom providers and keep the 5G prices as close as possible to the current pricing and work with device makers to find ways of making as many device models complaint through the necessary software upgrades and keep the prices of entry-level 5G devices low so more subscribers can migrate than what the survey is currently projecting.