India is bullish on 5G as the first networks are launched

  • India is looking to go big with 5G
  • The country’s government is eager to accelerate the digital agenda
  • The two main local operators are kickstarting their 5G operations
  • Multiple vendors and professional services firms are playing meaningful supporting roles
  • India Mobile Congress event used as a launch pad and as a calling card

India’s telecom sector and the administration of the country’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are throwing their full collective weight behind 5G, using the opening few days of the India Mobile Congress event, which began on Saturday 1 October and runs until Tuesday 4 October in New Delhi, to announce multiple initiatives designed to encourage uptake of the new generation of wireless services and to position India as a hotbed of 5G innovation. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi kicked off the event by inaugurating the first 5G network launch, which came courtesy of Bharti Airtel and which covers eight cities – Delhi, Mumbai, Varanasi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Nagpur and Siliguri – though the launch was more symbolic as it marked the switching on of the networks but not the commercial availability of services to paying customers (which is due to come shortly). 

Bharti Airtel, which has more than 356 million active mobile customers, had previously noted it aimed to launch services in October, achieve 5G coverage in key metropolitan areas by December, and have all of “urban India” covered by its 5G services by the end of 2023.

Bharti Airtel’s main rival, Reliance Jio, which has more than 382 million active mobile connections, is set to launch its 5G services later this month at the start of the Diwali, a five-day celebration also known as the “festival of lights”, and achieve national coverage in rural as well as urban areas by the end of next year – see India’s Jio to splash $25bn on achieving nationwide 5G coverage by end of 2023

India’s other main operator, Vodafone Idea, has said it will launch 5G services soon, but has not provided any details, while much smaller state-owned operator BSNL is not due to launch any 5G services until the second half of 2023, though it should be noted it is getting significant support from the government to become a more dynamic and competitive player after years of industrial torpor. 

What’s clear, though, is that India’s establishment is taking 5G, and the role that communications networking plays in the country’s future, very seriously. “5G marks the dawn of a new era and presents a sea of opportunities,” stated Modi during his speech at the congress. “India may not have benefitted from the first three industrial revolutions, but will not only take full benefit of the fourth industrial revolution, it will also lead it.” 

That kind of bullish talk isn’t limited to the Prime Minister. “We are committed to make India the largest data-powered economy in the world, beating China and the United States,” noted Mukesh Ambani, chairman and managing director of Jio’s ultimate parent company Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), during his presentation about the company’s 5G plans

And Ambani isn’t limiting Reliance’s ambition in the 5G and telecom technology sector just to India: Jio Platforms, the digital business unit of RIL that counts mobile and broadband operator Reliance Jio as part of its portfolio, aims to take what has been developed for, and deployed by, Jio out to the global market and sold to other network operators with a platforms-as-products strategy – see Watch out, vendors! Here comes Jio’s PaPs.

And Modi’s administration isn’t leaving 5G’s fate purely to the private sector: Telecom minister Ashwini Vaishnaw noted at the congress on Sunday that the government is planning to set up one hundred 5G labs across the country to help with technology and service developments, and help to train students in mobile data capabilities, reports The Times of India

But of course the private sector is putting its front foot forward too. New Delhi-based vendor HFCL announced the launch of its 5G Lab-as-a-Service, an “automated test environment for the private sector, academia and government to work together on product innovations from concept to reality,” while Mavenir has started production of 2G, 4G and 5G Open RAN radios for its OpenBeam portfolio in the country to support customers in India and elsewhere – see Mavenir announces 2G, 4G and 5G Open RAN radios made in India.

In addition, Indian telecom equipment vendor STL used the congress to announce the launch of Multiverse, a multicore fibre product that, the vendor claims, will help boost the capacity of fibre lines fourfold and “change the optical connectivity landscape of India”. Read more

And technology services giant Tata Communications has unveiled a Private 5G Global Centre of Excellence (CoE) in Pune, India, to “accelerate Industry 4.0 applications and capabilities for enterprises”, and has “developed use cases across automotive, metals and mining, airports and seaports, manufacturing, logistics and healthcare sectors… With trials underway, Tata Communications will be able to demonstrate private 5G use cases, such as automated quality inspection of equipment using video and image analytics, inventory management and asset tracking, warehouse theft detection, AR/VR-based remote worker collaboration, and video-powered retail purchase, to name a few,” it noted in this announcement.  

This is just a taste of what is happening in India right now and it’s different from in the past. The country now has more than a decade of reliance on mobile data services and technologies for its communications (fixed-line communications are practically non-existent) and the government and the private sector are aligned with their ambitions, supported by a large body of very capable developers, local companies with an increasingly international outlook. There is also a coordinated industrial strategy based on the Make in India initiative, which aims to ensure that skills and intellectual property aren’t lost to other economies. Modi and Ambani are bullish for a reason.

- Ray Le Maistre, Editorial Director, TelecomTV


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