5G in India – who, what, when, why and how much?

5G in India – who, what, when, why and how much?
5G spectrum auctions are all set to take place in India in 2022Business Insider India
  • While many countries in the world have either started using 5G or are testing their networks, India has lagged behind in this regard.
  • All the three telecom carriers – Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea are expected to take part in the 5G spectrum auction expected to take place in the coming weeks.
  • India’s telecom regulator has finally come up with its spectrum pricing recommendations, and now the ball is in the government’s court.
  • We take a holistic view of the current state of 5G in India, including seeking answers to some end-user questions.
The talk of 5G spectrum auctions has been going on for a long time in India now. While many countries all over the world have rolled out their 5G networks, India is yet to even auction the 5G airwaves, let alone the commercial rollout.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has come up with its first recommendations for 5G spectrum auctions, with a formula that has not been taken well by telcos. However, now, the ball is in the government’s court and it remains to be seen if it makes any changes and takes the views of telcos into account.

The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), a lobby group of the telecom operators, has voiced its disappointment quite clearly.

“Given the recent seminal reforms for the telecom sector announced by the Government of India, these recommendations are one step backwards [rather] than forward towards building a Digitally Connected India,” the group said in a statement.

5G – India versus the rest of the world


In comparison, countries like France and Germany, albeit a fraction of India’s population and area, have extremely dense 5G coverage. Apart from European countries, China, Australia, the US, several South American countries and a few African countries also have 5G in some capacity.

According to Ookla’s 5G network tracker, India is one of the few major countries without a 5G network. India’s immediate neighbours like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh, too, haven’t joined on the 5G bandwagon just yet.

On the other hand, despite its unprecedented economic struggles, Sri Lanka has a functioning 5G network. Even Russia has 5G coverage in its capital, Moscow, although the rest of the country is not covered yet.

According to a forecast by Ericsson, 5G is estimated to cover over 2 billion people by the end of 2021. By 2027, 75% of the world’s population is expected to have 5G access.

5G in India – who, what, when, why and how much?
3G, 4G and 5G coverage estimatesEricsson / Business Insider India

With several countries beginning to shut down legacy networks like 2G and 3G, the migration to 4G and subsequently 5G should be easier. In fact, 98% of the mobile users in India already have access to 4G, so this should make it easier for telecom companies like Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea to allocate more resources towards the 5G rollout.

This brings us to the elephant in the room – what is the status of 5G spectrum auctions in India?

The state of 5G in India

5G has been talked about for quite some time in India now, but delayed spectrum auctions have put a dampener on telco plans. Mukesh Ambani, the second richest Indian and chairman of market leader Reliance Jio, has pegged 5G as a matter of “national priority”.

Coming to the point, India’s telecom regulator – the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) – has finally put forward its recommendations for 5G spectrum auctions.

The regulator has recommended a 35-40% cut in the baseline 5G spectrum pricing. Telecom operators have been repeatedly asking for rationalised 5G spectrum prices, and the regulator seems to have heard their demands.

However, these prices are for a 20-year licence, as opposed to the 30-year term that telecom players have been asking for. Essentially, the price cut comes in at just 5-10%.

5G in India – who, what, when, why and how much?
It's a tie between Reliance Jio and Airtel as far as the 5G battle is concerned, say readersStocktwits / Business Insider India

Unsurprisingly, telecom players are not happy with the regulator.

The regulator, though, says that these calculations are scientific.

It remains to be seen how much enthusiasm Airtel, Jio and Vodafone Idea show during the 5G spectrum auctions, expected to take place in the first half of 2022. We should see some action on this front in the coming weeks.

“The spectrum pricing recommended by TRAI is too high. Industry recommended a 90% lower price, and to see only about a 35-40% reduction recommended in prices, therefore is deeply disappointing,” COAI further added.

Do we actually need 5G?

You must be wondering – do I really need 5G? What am I actually missing out on with just 4G?

4G speeds in India are relatively on the lower side. According to an OpenSignal report, the average download speeds on 4G in the US range between 35-40 Mbps.

In India, Reliance Jio tops with an average download speed of 29 Mbps. Airtel, which is usually rated for its quality of services, comes in at the third place, beyond even Vodafone Idea which has seen a degradation in its quality of services over the past several months.

5G in India – who, what, when, why and how much?
Jio leads the industry by a healthy margin when it comes to 4G speedsTRAI / Business Insider India

In contrast, 5G promises to deliver extremely fast speeds – as fast as 600 Mbps, according to real-world statistics from Ookla. The slowest was 156 Mbps in Singapore, which is still over five times faster than Reliance Jio’s 4G speeds.

5G also comes with many other benefits like lower latency, much higher capacity of connected devices, less interference and improved efficiency.

Lower latency would benefit those who livestream, do a lot of video calls or play games on their smartphones. Latency here refers to the delays in communication over a network. Lower the latency, the lower the lags and better the experience.

Another important area where 5G is a clear winner is the network capacity. If you have been to concerts, sports matches or anywhere where there is a huge crowd, you would have noticed that your 4G internet is barely usable, and calling is a huge problem.

5G solves this with much higher network capacity, so you will not only be able to experience a fast internet connection, but calling should also be relatively better.

All-in-all, 5G offers plenty of real-world performance improvements over 4G.

Does my phone support 5G?

Coming to the all-important question – does my phone support 5G?

According to a report by telecom gear provider Nokia, there are over 10 million 5G devices in India currently.

The answer to this is the easier part – most phones with 5G support come with the 5G tag, so if you are confused, or don’t remember, all you have to do is check the phone box.

The more important part here is to understand if your 5G phone will actually support India’s 5G bands. Since the auctions haven’t taken place and there is no clarity either from the telecom companies about which 5G bands will be supported by them, this is the piece of the puzzle that can be solved only with time.

In the meantime, if you are looking to buy a new smartphone, the best thing that you can do right now is carefully consider how many 5G bands are supported by your new phone.

Not every 5G phone is made equal, though, so make sure your new phone supports these bands.


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