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Bharti Says India Is Still 12-18 Months Away From 5G

Indian mobile carriers will require another 12 to 18 months in order to deploy 5G networks across the country, Akhil Gupta, vice chairman of Bharti Enterprises told CNBC.

Bharti Enterprises is the parent company of major Indian telecommunication operator Bharti Airtel.

The executive said that despite some countries have already launched commercial 5G networks, the technology is still at a nascent stage where several use cases are still being developed.

For India, the 5G roll out “should be 12 to 18 months away, if not more,” he said, adding that the country should carry out various tests and trials.

“The Indian government has taken a decision to give the spectrum on trial basis. As operators, we’re preparing ourselves so that we can roll out as quickly as possible once there is a use case for India,” Gupta said.

Local operators have expressed concern about the proposed base price for 5G spectrum proposed by the Indian government.

In June, The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has recommended a base price of 4.92 billion Indian rupees ($71 million) to license a unit of spectrum for use across 22 Indian regions.

Operators have to bid for blocks of at least 20 units, so securing pan-India 5G spectrum will cost a company at least $1.42 billion at base price levels, according to previous reports.

Gutpa said that the base price for 5G spectrum “is certainly overpriced”, adding that the government’s objective is not to maximize revenue, but to spread connectivity across the country. “I think that must be the fundamental aim of 5G. Therefore, keeping a high auction price, a spectrum price, to my mind doesn’t serve the purpose.”

The executive also said that the government needed to make sure that “more money is allocated toward network rollout than for spectrum.”

He also said that local operators should continue to invest to expand 4G infrastructure across the country, as this technology will help India to prepare better for 5G deployments.

India’s incumbent telecom operators are expected to launch 5G trials in the short term after a panel at the Telecom Ministry had recommended spectrum for the testing. The panel, which deliberated on the amount of necessary spectrum and duration of the 5G trials, recommended 5G spectrum to Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio initially for a three-month period, which could be increased to one year if more time is needed for network stabilization.

According to previous local press reports, Samsung Electronics, Nokia and Ericsson have received the green light from the government to take part in the 5G trials.

Reliance Jio was seen as likely to partner with Samsung, Nokia with Airtel and Vodafone-Idea with Ericsson for the 5G trials, according to the reports.

Meanwhile, the government is still in the process of deciding if Chinese vendor Huawei Technologies is allowed to participate in the trials. The Chinese government recently told India that there could be consequences for Indian firms with operations in China if Huawei Technologies was banned from the deployment of 5G in the country.

Following the initial network trials, the Indian government aims to launch a 5G spectrum auction, probably in the second half of this year. The auction process will include frequencies in the 700MHz, 800MHz, 1800MHz, 2300MHz, 2500MHz and 3400MHz-3600MHz ranges.—RCR Wireless News

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