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Indian telcos start 5G trials, mass adoption remains elusive

Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel have started 5G trials in different cities, but mass adoption is still some way off due to high spectrum and infrastructure costs

India’s major telcos Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel have started 5G trials in different cities, but high infrastructure costs could hinder mass adoption, according to a research firm.

Swati Verma, associate project manager of thematic research at GlobalData, said that while India’s telecom operators are wasting no time in kicking off 5G trials, the road to widespread adoption looks bumpy.

That is because 5G technology requires huge investments, and the country’s telcos are already facing financial problems.

“5G trial authorisation was delayed for two years, hence Indian telcos are making up for lost time,” said Verma, noting that Reliance Jio is a clear leader in the 4G market and is expected to lead the way in 5G as well.

Reliance Jio, which has commenced 5G trials in Mumbai, is building a proprietary standalone 5G network while Bharti Airtel is using Ericsson’s technology for its non-standalone 5G network. Reliance Jio is also expected to introduce a low-cost 5G handset this week.

Verma noted that Bharti Airtel, which is testing its 5G network in Gurugram, will follow Reliance Jio in the 5G market. As for Vodafone Idea, it will be difficult for the telco to take the 5G leap as it has suffered the most from aggressive competition, losing customers to rivals and owing considerable debts to the government.

She added that cut-throat competition in 4G services has left all Indian telcos struggling for profitability with no cash in hand, with the price of spectrum in India is several times higher than in other countries.

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In the spectrum auction held in March 2021, none of the three primary telecom operators bought 5G-suitable bands. In addition, Verma said a major challenge for operators is highlighting the use cases for 5G.

“India is yet to develop relevant use cases that can be monetised,” she added. “Operators will be testing 5G across applications such as telemedicine, online learning, and agricultural technology during the trials.

“The high cost of infrastructure and spectrum might mean users pay a premium for 5G services, and as a result price-sensitive Indian consumer may be reluctant to adopt the technology.”

GlobalData expects global 5G penetration to reach 38% by 2025, but only 12% of the Indian population will be using 5G services.

Still, the growing momentum of 5G in India is fuelling demand for talent not only in 5G mobile core projects, but also in enterprise 5G solutions.

Dell, for example, is growing a 5G research and development team in Bangalore to design and build products and solutions for service providers and enterprises, while HP is providing cloud-native 5G offerings.

Ajay Thalluri, business fundamentals analyst at GlobalData, said: “With a host of companies looking at various 5G use cases in India, hiring could go beyond conventional telecom jobs. Hiring is also likely to increase over the coming months with companies exploring various components of the 5G value chain”.

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