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India wants homegrown 5G as Bharti holds back from launch

India is ready to start testing 5G, according to the country’s communications minister, who this week called upon the country’s telcos to opt for homegrown technology for the 5G core.

His comments came as Bharti Airtel trumpeted a successful 5G demo in Hyderabad, but indications are that the telco is in no rush to launch commercial services.

“We lagged behind in 2G, 3G and 4G, but in 5G India should move at a speed faster than the world with ‘made in India’ 5G,” the Economic Times quoted Ravi Shankar Prasad as saying at at a National Informatics Center Services Incorporated (NICSI) event on Thursday.

The minister said that the country’s test bed for 5G is ready and that the government will soon award permits for trial services. “Core of the network should be Indian,” he said, according to the paper.

Prasad’s words are all very well, but you could argue that 5G is already behind schedule in India. The government has been talking about allocating 5G spectrum for a number of years, but has yet to finalise the process. Meanwhile, until recently the country’s telcos were not pushing the matter, doubtless looking to buy some time before facing further hefty bills for spectrum and subsequently network rollout in a market in which customer demand for 5G remains in question.

Bharti Airtel is making all the right noises. It now styles itself as “the 5G ready network,” having carried out a non-standalone 5G demonstration over a live network in the city of Hyderabad, using 1800 MHz spectrum. As reported by the Business Standard, Airtel used dynamic spectrum sharing to operate 4G and 5G concurrently.

But while company chief executive Gopal Vittal waxed lyrical about Bharti being the first in India to make such an announcement, it was clear that 5G will not be a commercial reality any time soon.

The Hyderabad demo enabled users to carry out what has become the standard test of a 5G network and download a full-length movie on a 5G phone in a matter of seconds. But Airtel said it will not make the 5G experience  available to customers until it has the right government permission and  adequate spectrum.

India’s next spectrum auction is due to take place in March, when the government will sell off spectrum in multiple bands between 700 MHz and 2.5 GHz… for 4G services. The sale of mid-band spectrum for 5G, in the 3.3 GHz-3.6 GHz bands is due to come later in the year, although the government has yet to set a date. India’s telcos have been lobbying for the inclusion of the 26 GHz band in India’s first 5G sale too, but there is as yet no clarity on that.

Spectrum allocation processes in India are always beset by delays, so it is anyone’s guess when the telcos will actually have 5G frequencies at their disposal.

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