The government is looking at a time frame within the first two weeks of July to kick off and complete the upcoming 5G auctions, according to discussions between officials and stakeholders.
It is expected that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) will give its recommendations on the base price by March, after which the necessary cabinet clearances will be given.
The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) had earlier looked at undertaking the auction in the first quarter of 2022 but decided to push it back. Communications Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw had also said that the auctions are likely to take place in April-May.
The DoT has already made a reference to the regulator to fix the base price of the crucial 5G millimetre band, the amount of spectrum, and review the price fixed for the 3500 band by the regulator.
Telcos have raised serious objections to the high base price recommended earlier by TRAI and made it clear that the price would render 5G unviable.
While Vaishnaw has been trying to speed up the process, telcos say that a largescale commercial roll out of 5G networks will now only happen in 2023, even if auctions are completed by the second quarter of the calendar year.
“For any reasonable roll out of 5G, we expect it to happen sometimes from 2023.
“We have to order equipment, roll out and upgrade networks among other things,” said a telecom company executive.
There are numerous issues which need to be tackled.
For instance, Reliance Jio in a communication to DoT has opposed any phased auction.
It says it will impact the roll out. Reliance Jio has opposed any move to auction the 3,300-3,670 band first and the millilmetre band later on.
It has also opposed the fragmentation of the millimetre band to accommodate satellite broadband operators, saying that the availability of spectrum will then be very limited.
Most experts and telcos agree that India will be a pretty late entrant to the 5G space, despite the fact that spectrum was available to roll it out even a year or two ago.
However, the decision on the spectrum auction and even on trial runs has been postponed numerous times.
According to the GSM Suppliers’ Association, the data till August 2021 shows that 166 operators in 67 countries have launched 5G services.
The industry estimates that by the end of 2022, when India’s roll out will start, this number might hit close to 250-300 operators.
Moreover, 13 operators have also launched the much more advanced 5G standalone network (compared to 5G non-standalone which will continue to use the 4G network).
Reliance Jio is the only Indian company planning to launch 5G standalone.
It offers low latency and opens up 5G for many other operations.
Globally, there are already 660 million 5G subscribers according to the latest Ericsson Mobility report.
It predicts that by 2027, the figure will rise to 4.4 billion.
By the time this happens, India will still be a predominantly 4G market with only around 37 per cent of the subscriber base on 5G.
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