Airtel said that it is fully poised to launch 5G service in India, and was only waiting for the auction of spectrum by the government.
“A quarter or two quarters from that, we would start seeing 5G networks going live in India,” said Randeep Sekhon, chief technology officer of Bharti Airtel, at a press briefing organised jointly with Ericsson, the telecom infra major that is partnering with the Gurgaon-based telecom operator in testing and deploying 5G network across the country.
“In one year's time, we should see large portions of India, especially where demand is high, being covered,” Sekhon further added.
5G has already launched in many developed markets, including to a large extent in countries like South Korea. In India, the auctioning of radio spectrum, which can be used for launching the service, has been postponed more than once. Reasons range from the spread of the coronavirus to high base prices which telecom operators objected to.
The financial situation of leading operators, especially Vodafone-Idea has also been a concern, with AGR liability running into thousands of crores due from them.
India's biggest telecom service provider Reliance Jio had announced plans to launch 5G service in 2021. Chairman Mukesh Ambani's plans, announced by him at last year's company annual general body, will have to wait due to the delay in spectrum auctions.
However, both Jio and Airtel have already done tests of their 5G networks. Airtel conducted the country's first 5G demo using a live 4G network in January this year, followed by showing off speeds of more than 1Gbps at a trial in Gurgaon in June, as well as the first cloud gaming session in 5G in the outskirts of Gurgaon last month.
Airtel also said it had tested 5G in rural settings in Bhaipur Bramanan village in the outskirts of the national capital region demonstrating an inter-site coverage of 20km using 5G trial spectrum allotted by the government, showing how 5G can connect even remote areas.
Nunzio Mirtillo, head of Ericsson Southeast Asia, Oceania and India said, “The technology milestone of extended coverage achieved by Ericsson and Airtel as part of the ongoing 5G trial in India is even more significant since it demonstrates how 5G can ‘connect the unconnected’ in India, enable faster 5G rollout and truly help India realise its ‘Digital India’ vision.”
A recent survey by Ericsson found 21 per cent already owning a 5G-ready smartphone and that as many as 4 crore users will take up 5G services in the first year of operation. The survey estimates that one-fourth of mobile users will be on 5G networks by 2026.