5G is coming to India as early as 2020, as per the Indian government roadmap. Jio, Airtel, and Vodafone Idea Limited (VIL) are conducting equipment trials; TRAI has released a white paper; spectrum bands have been identified; and there are international case studies now available for us to study and learn from. India will be one of the countries joining the 5G party relatively early.
For a successful 5G launch, spectrum is going to be needed in sub-one GHz, one to six GHz, as well as in higher-frequency bands. While the government in the past has been obliged to auction spectrum, it needs to be careful that this does not result in cash-strapped operators without the resources needing to upgrade their networks to 5G. The investment needed for 5G in India is estimated at USD 60–70 billion.
Airtel and VIL are both raising Rs 25,000 crore in additional equity and Jio has access to capital from Reliance. Airtel and VIL need to first streamline their existing operations that have been hurt by Jio pricing and prepare themselves to take on the 5G challenge.
It will indeed be wonderful if the government can make 5G spectrum in specified bands, adjacent to licensed spectrum, available free of cost to the existing operators, and maintain this policy till India reaches 100 million 5G subscribers. There is such a huge benefit to many parts of the economy that will happen as a result. Indeed, the beneficial impact of 5G to the larger India economy over a longer period of time is estimated at a trillion dollars.
India should also not miss the manufacturing opportunity that the advent of 5G will present. While some funds have been provided by the government for research in the 5G domain, a more comprehensive set of policy measures including income tax breaks for manufacturing telecom equipment is needed.
Hopefully, after the elections, we will have a stable government in place that can give the direction that Indian telecom needs. 5G is an opportunity not only for Indian telecom but for India as well!