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India lays out plans to drive telcos back to profit on the back of 5G

The practicalities of 5G are often a greater barrier than the new architectures and radios – the time to get approval for a trial, a site or a fiber connection, for instance. India is aiming to ease that situation and ensure that it does not get left behind in 5G deployment, as it was in previous generations.

The government has announced plans to introduce new rules to allow authorities to grant immediate approval for 5G field trials and R&D projects, and operators are already hopeful that this will filter through to a simplified framework for approvals of commercial roll-outs, especially when it comes to sites and backhaul for dense city networks.

The rules will help the Department of Telecom to accelerate its planned 5G field trials, the Economic Times reported, and the DoT has already approached vendors such as Cisco, Samsung, Ericsson and Nokia to gain their participation in its program. Reports indicated that Huawei had not been included in the initial list of invitees, raising speculation that India might follow the USA, Australia and others in excluding the Chinese firm from supplying its 5G networks. However, the operators are keen to have a fully competitive vendor landscape and Huawei says it has not been left out.

The largest MNOs – Vodafone Idea, Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and state-owned BSNL –  have all been invited to take part in the trials, from next year. The government plans to allocate spectrum for 5G in the second half of 2019, initially in the 3.5 GHz band – in common with many other countries – and possibly also in the range from 2.4 GHz to 2.8 GHz.

The government also said it plans to set up a National Fiber Authority (NFA) to help meet the fiber needs for 5G backhaul and fronthaul, and it is working with the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) to establish technology standards and develop use cases for the Indian market. The aim is to have a fully functional, dense and modern 5G infrastructure in place by 2023, to support large-scale deployments.

All this relates to the latest in the government’s periodic series of National Digital Communications Policies, this less targeted than its forerunners – in its rhetoric at least – at grand digital visions, and more at helping the telecoms industry to become viable and profitable again, after years of over-competition, plummeting ARPUs and resulting poor quality of service for users.

The government will work with the telcos to attract $100bn of investment into the sector by 2022, said the country’s telecoms secretary, Aruna Sundararajan, at a recent event.

“It is estimated that India will require $100bn of investment by 2022, and we are working towards it. Central to it is a robust partnership between the government and industry,” she said.

While the government may have 2023 in its sights, Reliance Industries (RIL) – parent firm of disruptive new mobile entrant Reliance Jio – says India will be ready to launch full 5G services as early as 2020, bringing it into line with other early movers. RIL’s chairman, Mukesh Ambani, told the Economic Times: “India has moved from 155th rank in mobile broadband penetration to being the number one nation in mobile data consumption in the world… in less than two years. This is the fastest transition anywhere in the world from 2G/3G to 4G. By 2020, I believe that India will be a fully-4G country and ready for 5G ahead of others.”

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