As 2022 draws to a close, we look at how 5G technology fared in India through some significant milestones. Since the introduction of 4G technology in the early 2010s, the smartphone industry has boomed in the country. Now, there are hardware concerns as users question whether they will have to upgrade their devices at great personal cost. Entry level smartphone makers are rushing to fill this void by offering 5G-enabled ‘Made in India’ handsets at affordable prices.
(For insights on emerging themes at the intersection of technology, business and policy, subscribe to our tech newsletter Today’s Cache.)
One of the biggest challenges of deploying 5G in the country was the question of fiberisation, or connecting radio towers with the help of optical fibre cables. Fiberisation will supply extra bandwidth and ease the load of the huge amounts of data that will be carried after 5G deployment. However, India still has a long way to go in terms of towerisation and fiberisation, as vast capital is needed to fund such a project. To fiberise just 70% of its towers, an investment of ₹2.2 lakh crore is needed.
The auctioning of 5G spectrum bands also caused an outcry, as the Union Cabinet said earlier in the year that it was setting aside a quota of the airwaves for private captive networks, which are generally used by enterprises. Telecom service providers (TSPs) were against this. This debate in what is essentially the world’s second-largest telecom market has further delayed the process. The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) industry group was strongly against the idea of private captive networks and voiced its concerns to Telecom Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw.
As of December, India had 5G services in multiple states, covering around 50 cities and towns in total. While TSPs are supporting the service, Lt. Gen. Dr. S.P. Kochhar, Director General at COAI, told The Hindu that there was a risk of aggregators hoarding the spectrum and giving themselves the role of “pseudo-TSPs.”
“The Government has introduced amended Right of Way (RoW) Guidelines to help facilitate faster deployment of telecom infrastructure across the states and establish an efficient 5G network. However, rollout of underground and overhead fibre continues to be hampered by difficulties in implementing state policies at local entities, municipal corporations, and wards. State and local bodies impose exorbitant charges for deploying telecom infrastructure on street furniture,” said Dr. S.P. Kochhar.
In 2023, the deployment of 5G will not just depend on the technology and investments, but the level of cooperation between the responsible government and state stakeholders, the 5G service providers, the smartphone makers, and the rest of us.