This article was originally published on The Telecom Today
Roadmap for the rollout of 5G services by 2022 is almost set. Even the telecom equipment manufacturers are all geared up to launch their range of 5G-enabled devices by 2019. But in the country where internet speed at 4G still comes to a crawl; the big question is whether we are ready to graduate to the next generation of wireless technology. Though it seems ambitious, at least for now, let’s do a bit of reality check on how well prepared our telecom sector is especially, given the financial health of the telecom industry and loopholes that exist in our telecom regulatory bodies.
There’s no doubt 5G will significantly contribute to transforming our lives, especially with enthusiasts promising it to be the gateway to self-driving cars, virtual reality, and the Internet of Things. But in the midst of ongoing excitement, there are a known set of challenges yet to be faced.
To begin with, if we start with the financial health of the telecom industry, there’s a lot of uncertainty looming ahead, largely because the revenues of all operators have declined with Reliance Jio entering the market space. In fact, before the launch of Jio, India had 12 telecom service providers, but today the number is drastically reduced to just five; with each trying its best to keep their high-end subscribers in its fold. So, with established telecom players already bleeding profusely owing to the disruptive pricing and change in subscriber base scenario, upgrading infrastructure and updating airwaves to 5G is only expected to add up to their woes of existing costs. And, not to forget the exorbitant price of Indian spectrum as this too is expected to burn a hole in the balance sheets of telecom players. According to the news published in The Hindu, TRAI has recommended auctioning 20MHz blocks in the 3,300-3,600MHz band for 5G services at a whopping price of ₹492 crore per MHz, which is roughly 7.5 times more than that of South Korea.
Besides, we still lack fibre infrastructure due to which we constantly face poor quality of service and call drop issues. And, even-though leading telecom operators are committed to investing in fibre, still a lot needs to be done specially, in terms of making a ‘policy’ that gives importance to fibre deployments.
However, another critical and ongoing problem is about low speed of data and high rates. In fact, according to the Speed-test Global Index, India ranks 109th for mobile Internet speeds and 67th in terms of broadband speeds globally. So, believe it or not, this positions us below our neighbors- Pakistan and Sri-Lanka in terms of mobile internet speed. Moreover, the present data speed offered by companies in India tends to lack uniformity. But then again blame it on lack of fibre infrastructure and last mile connectivity. Above all, with states having different ‘Right of Way’ (RoW) policies, telecom players are losing out a significant chunk of their infrastructure investments to municipal bodies across states. And, in the near future with the coming of 5G, operators are likely to face the brunt of RoW even more.
Simply put, to make sense and sound logical. 5G requires a proper strategy and massive investments for its implementation and any delay in solving the infrastructure issues will lead to only patchy implementations of 5G.
So, with a slew of challenges lined up for both telecom players and the government, we can only hope that India will not miss the 5G bus.