As the rest of the world flies high on 5G, most of India will still be on a 4G network in 2025


  • By 2025, 5G networks will carry half of the world’s mobile data traffic — just not in India.
  • 5G network penetration in India will be at 11% while more developed parts of the world will exceed 50%.
  • It’s only in 2019 that the number of 4G subscriptions are expected to exceed 2G subscriptions in India.
India’s data usage is growing by the day and for the first time, in 2019, 4G mobile subscriptions as expected to exceed 2G subscriptions. But, the breakthrough comes at a time when 5G networks around the world are going live and India is yet to begin the auction of its airwaves.

Mobile subscriptions in IndiaEricsson Mobility Report

More than half of North East Asia, Western Europe and North America will be on 5G by 2025, according to Ericsson’s latest Mobility Report.

But in India, 5G will only account for 11% of total mobile subscriptions. The Indian region — which also includes Nepal and Bhutan — will be the slowest to adopt 5G, second only to the Middle East and Africa, where 5G penetration forecasted to be at 7%.

"The mass-market adoption of advanced use cases fueled by 5G is expected later in India than in other regions," noted the report.

Finally on the 4G bandwagon

India’s 4G subscriptions are set to increase by 150 million during 2019 and surpass 2G technology. This means that the 4G network will now account for 57% of the mobile subscriptions by the end of the year, hitting the half-way mark for the first time.

"As the transformation toward more advanced technologies continues in India, LTE is forecast to represent 80 percent of mobile subscriptions by the end of 2025," noted Ericsson’s report.

It’s also a milestone for smartphones. Being more affordable has increased their usage from 48% to 54% over the past year. And, more are anticipated.

"A total of 500 million additional smartphone users are expected in India by 2025," according to Ericsson.

More smartphone users means more data consumption. Right now, India leads the region when it comes to usage per smartphone. By 2025, Ericsson forecasts are the traffic will triple.

"Even if the traffic per existing smartphone user continues to grow significantly over time, the increase in the average traffic per smartphone is expected to moderate as more consumers in India acquire smartphones," noted the report.

5G’s many delays

One of the primary reasons for the delay has been the pricing of the spectrum. Vodafone Idea, Airtel and Jio have been locked in a price war, bulking under debt and just got hit with outstanding licence fees — they claim that they can’t afford to buy 5G airwaves at the base price that the government has fixed for auctioning them.

According to the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), India’s prices for the 5G spectrum are much higher than the international average.

It’s not just that the airwaves are expensive. Telecom operators claim that revenue generation from 5G will be slow until use cases become more prevalent.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) also threw a new wrench in the government’s plans. The agency announced that it needs the premium 26 GHz band — which is ideal for the 5G network — for their own weather satellites.

Broken promises

Ravi Shankar Prasad, India’s IT minister, announced that the government would auction the 5G spectrum within the next 100 days when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won the 2019 general election. This was back in June.

Months passed by and now, the commercial launch of 5G services is pegged to happen in 2020. Nonetheless, Prasad has assured stakeholders that the 5G auction will happen in the current financial year.


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