5G as early as September

Source: By Aashish Aryan: The Indian Express

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) on 28 January 2021 reduced the notice period for telcos to six months for rolling out a new service by using new technology. This notice period was earlier one year for telcos.

As part of the National Frequency Allocation Plan (NFAP), whenever a new company wants to enter into the telecommunications market, or an existing telecom company wants to launch a new technology, a notice period of one year had to be given to the DoT so authorities can make arrangements for the spectrum required.

The first NFAP, released in 1986, has since been revised multiple times to suit growing number of users in the country as well as the demands of telecom companies. The Union government owns all the publicly available assets within the geographical boundaries of the country, which also include airwaves. With the expansion in the number of cellphone, wireline telephone and internet users the need to provide more space for the signals arises from time to time.

The spectrum waves, however, are also used by agencies such as the Indian Space Research Organisation and defence systems for secure communication. Some of the companies also buy some spectrum for establishing secured communication between their various locations. The DoT thus mandates that all such new technologies which are being launched for commercial purposes give a notice period so that adequate arrangements can be made.

In the notice inviting applications for the spectrum auctions to be held in March, the DoT amended the clause by cutting down the notice period to six months from one year. A total of 2251.25 MHz of spectrum across seven frequency bands at a reserve price of Rs 3.92 lakh crore has been put up for sale.

The government has put up, for auction in March, frequency bands only for 4G services. This could mean that the telecom companies could start limited commercial testing of 5G services on frequency bands that are being auctioned in March.

For example, on 28 January 2021, Bharti Airtel announced the successful demonstration of its live 5G service over a commercial network in Hyderabad, the first in India, showcasing the readiness of its network for the next level of mobile telephony.

The network has been rolled out on a use case basis on a non-standalone basis on the 1800 MHz frequency band. The roll out on a non-standalone basis means that network can fall back on 4G if there are some glitches in the 5G network.

Though the company would still need more spectrum and permission from the DoT to start offering 5G services on a commercial basis, it can now start these real time tests from September 2021 after buying spectrum in March 2021.

Apart from Bharti Airtel, its market rival Reliance Jio Infocomm, had also announced a few days ago that it had begun advanced 5G tests on its network and planned to bring 5G in India as soon as the second half of this year.

5G or fifth generation is the latest upgrade in the long-term evolution (LTE) mobile broadband networks. On par with global players, India had, in 2018, planned to start 5G services as soon as possible, with an aim to capitalise on the better network speeds and strength that the technology promised. However, claims on spectrum space by the Defence Ministry and space department on part of the spectrum that was identified for 5G services has led to the delay up until now.

With the shortened notice period for service roll out, telcos feel they will be able to commercially launch the new technology as early as the first half of 2022. This would mean that Indian users would be at the forefront of adopting a new technology and experiencing the various uses of it. The introduction of new technology would also mean development of new industry such as 5G handsets around the periphery.