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Jio and Airtel poised to deliver 5G services to metros, most cities and towns by Diwali 2023

Telecom gear companies have put together a 5G network rollout plan with service providers to install new radios at an average of 160,000 towers per operator by September-October or during the festival season next year.

Vendors say this will embrace all metros, cities and towns and cover 80 per cent of the country geographically. Vendors will be shipping over 1.4 million radios or assembling them in India on different spectrum bands. There is one rider, though–the chip shortage, which has eased considerably of late, should not return.

A leading telecom vendor executive said about 10,000 towers have so far been connected across 8-10 cities where services have begun. “We expect smooth availability of 5G radios which have to be installed by January and after that, we will see coverage going up day by day and by October, metros, most cities and towns will have coverage,” he said.

Sources in Airtel say that they have been installing 1,500-1,600 towers a week.

Data from the Digital Infrastructure Providers’ Association India shows that India has close to 727,000 towers, including those on roofs and the ground and mounted on walls. But only 36 per cent of them (260,000 towers) are fiberised and this is a key requirement for handling 5G data which requires a high bandwidth.

Clearly, most of these towers will be on 5G (some will be common among telcos). There will also be an additional number of towers that will use E band spectrum, which is being given to Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio instead of fibre for 5G backhaul.

The requirement for radios will be massive. Telecom vendors say Reliance Jio is installing six radios per tower– three each in the 3.5 GHz band, the key band for 5G, as well as in the 700 MHz, which only Reliance Jio has bought to increase its coverage all over the country.

Experts say Jio is offering standalone 5G in which the core as well as the radios are on 5G.

Sources say that Bharti Airtel is putting in 2-3 radios in the 3.5 GHz band as it has not bought the 700 MHz band and will be using its existing bands for coverage. It is offering the non-standalone 5G service in which the core that controls the network is still on 4G. Both Jio and Airtel declined to talk about their roll out officially.

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has been keeping a close tab on the progress of the network rollout ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched 5G in October.

DoT and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) have intervened in response to complaints from subscribers about the unavailability of 5G or that their 5G phones have not even been activated.

In response, telcos have promised to increase the pace of their deployments by 9,000 in December to hit 10,000 towers a week in January. At that rate (40,000 towers a month), they can comfortably meet their targets.

Similarly, 160-plus 5G mobile devices are already 5G-enabled. Apple has offered its subscribers a beta version of software which they need to download to get their phones enabled for 5G standalone services.

Some 70 million subscribers had bought 5G phones even before the service was launched. Business Standard

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