03 Jan With many nations already on 5G, industry divided over trials
Mumbai: Mobile phone operators and global equipment vendors appear to be split over the government’s decision to start 5G trials.
While telcos say the trials are important to develop local use-cases, some equipment makers say it is too late, considering that over 50 commercial 5G networks have already been rolled out globally and their use-cases can be modified for the South Asian nation.
A senior executive at one vendor said the trials should have begun a year ago and now that global testing is over, it does not make sense to start from scratch in India, especially with the auction of 5G airwaves slated for March-April.
“If the government wants us to work on trials, we will, but it is a time-consuming process and we could have started rollouts the moment auctions are done,” said a senior executive at one vendor, who asked not to be identified.
Mobile phone companies said the trials are still relevant.
“Yes, it may have helped if trials were allowed a year ago, but it is not too late,” said Rajan Mathews, director general of the Cellular Operators Association of India. “India-specific trials are needed and standards, even globally, are getting finalised. Densification, IoT (Internet of Things), network splitting and other feature functionalities are still getting developed.”
A senior DoT official said trials can even be held simultaneously with the spectrum auction. “The trials can happen also with the winners of the spectrum auction,” the official added, when asked about the need for 5G trials in India.
Mathews said it will seven to eight months by the time the auctions get over and spectrum is allotted.
“Secondly, this is trial spectrum, allotted in some patches and won’t interfere with government’s allotment of actual 5G spectrum once the auctions get over,” he said.
The government has met operators and vendors such as Ericsson, Nokia and China’s Huawei and ZTE and it has asked the telcos to apply for trials by January 10.
Trials for 5G services in India were first scheduled for January 2019 but were delayed on modalities such as pricing and tenure. While the US, South Korea and China, among other major countries, are ahead on testing, India has its own set of challenges to address, experts said.
“While the US is looking into robotic surgery, autonomous cars, drone delivery and flying cars, India’s first priority will be to decongest the network and address call quality issues. Hence, testing is important,” said Hemant Joshi, technology, media and telecommunications leader at Deloitte India.
Another senior telco executive said 5G spectrum must be checked for suitability and to ensure there is no interference. “Bands need to be tested to indicate the service quality and spot any interference. Vendors will adapt to the software, but testing always helps,” the executive said.