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Indian carriers prepare for 5G despite high spectrum prices

despite For some time, it was looking as if India’s 5G spectrum auctions would take place by the end of this year. However, high spectrum prices continue to throw a wrench in India’s 5G timeline. Rakesh Bharti Mittal, a vice-chairman of Bharti Enterprises, had stated that the reserve price of 5G airwaves suggested by the telecom regulator “is seven times higher than global peers.”

Jio director Mahendra Nahata and Vodafone Idea CEO Balesh Sharma have expressed similar perspectives. Just a few days ago, Mittal urged the government to reexamine 5G spectrum prices, warning that the high prices are going to delay the deployment of India’s 5G networks, while Sharma has previously called the prices “exorbitant.”

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In fact, in July, market analysts posited that Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea are probably not going to take part in the country’s 5G spectrum sale if the telecom regulator fails to lower current prices. It has been consistently believed, however, that Jio, the only profit-making telco in the Indian market, will indeed take part in the auction.

Although India’s government has yet to auction any 5G spectrum and despite the struggle over price, India’s mobile operators are continuing to prepare themselves for the launch of their next-generation networks. While the commercial rollout of 5G in India is not expected until sometime in 2020, the three largest Indian carriers have been busy conducting trials and implementing 5G-ready equipment.

Below is a quick look at some of the things each carrier is doing to ready itself for the future of connectivity.

Vodafone Idea

Despite the lack of an auction date for the 5G spectrum, Huawei has shown great interest in investing in India’s wireless market, primarily because it is the largest out of China by a number of subscribers. Further, India has been somewhat reticent regarding the U.S.’s attempts to persuade the country to boycott the Chinese technology giant.

This past Monday, in fact, Huawei said it deployed India’s first artificial intelligence (AI) based pre-5G technology on Vodafone Idea’s network, claiming that the deployment of AI-based massive MIMO network will enhance the user experience by three-fold within the same set of the spectrum.

With help from Huawei, Vodafone Idea’s 4G networks are going to run on 5G technology, which will better prepare the carrier for a speedier 5G deployment in 2020.

Back in February, Vodafone Idea selected Ericsson to deploy 5G-ready equipment across select markets in India to provide Vodafone Idea’s network with advanced LTE capabilities, as well as enable rapid deployment 5G services in the future. As part of the contract, Ericsson supplied radio access and transport equipment from its 5G-ready Ericsson Radio System portfolio, including the MINI-LINK 6000 microwave backhaul solution.

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Reliance Jio

In September, Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited (Jio), Chinese telecom operators and other international technology companies came together to create the Open Test and Integration Centre (OTIC), which seeks to develop 5G network solutions based on open standards and interoperability.

And at the recent India Mobile Congress (IMC) 2019, Jio and Samsung presented new business opportunities using 5G NSA mode, with advanced 4G LTE and 5G technology used in combination as a dual-connected mode network.

Paul Kyungwhoon Cheun, executive vice president and head of networks business at Samsung explained that it is critical for Indian operators to have superior LTE networks as they move towards the 5G era.

Cheun also referenced Samsung’s long history with Jio, stating that Samsung has been part of the operator’s transition to 4G throughout India for over seven years. “Samsung and Jio will continue to join forces in bringing next-generation innovation across the country, harnessing the full 5G potential in driving further growth of a ‘Digital India’,” he added.

One of the demonstrations at IMC included a virtual classroom in which attendees to watched a 360-degree virtual lecture taken from a classroom in Jio’s Reliance Corporate Park in Mumbai. Another demonstration showed FHD video streaming on multiple smartphones (Galaxy S10 5G) simultaneously and 4K video streaming using multiple 5G tablets, which showcased the unparalleled entertainment experience powered by 5G.

Bharti Airtel

As early as 2017, Airtel India deployed India’s first MIMO technology, a key step towards enabling future 5G networks. The first round of deployments took place in Bangalore and Kolkata and expanded existing network capacity by five to seven times using the existing spectrum, improving spectral efficiency.

This past week, in a first for India, Ericsson and Airtel enabled a 5G powered ‘Connected Music’ performance during IMC 2019.

Two parts of a musical performance were connected using a live 5G network and presenting it as one, for live audiences at both locations. In one location, singer and music composer Siddharth Shankar Mahadevan performed “Jai Ho,” while a Swedish band played at the Ericsson booth, about 100 meters away. Then, these two separate performances were brought together for viewers, demonstrating how 5G can develop robust and efficient ways of creating immersive and immediate experiences.

The showcase provided a unique use case for 5G that may not have occurred to many in the industry. The performing art industry stands to benefit greatly from 5G in cases like this as it helps eliminate travel time and the costs that limit collaboration, performance and practice.

Head of Ericsson South East Asia, Oceania and India Nunzio Mirtillo commented, “We have been studying the impact 5G technology will have on industries across the world. This Connected Music demonstration is a fine example of benefits that 5G can bring to performing arts. It brings art and music closer to audiences.”

And earlier this week, Airtel selected Ericsson to deploy its 5G-ready Cloud Packet Core in Airtel’s Pan India core network.

The 5G India Forum

The 5G India Forum, launched at the end of August by the cellular operators association of India (COAI), aims to boost the local ecosystem towards the implementation of 5G technology. By bring together the different players in the telecommunications, mobility and connectivity eco-system, the forum will have a more active role in the development of 5G networks across the country.

Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea, and Reliance Jio Infocomm are all COAI members, as well as Aircel and Telenor India.

Despite the set back presented by the challenges associated with spectrum pricing, Indian operators are continuing to push towards 5G deployment. In fact, global telecom industry body GSMA expects India to have 920 million unique mobile subscribers by 2025, which will include 88 million 5G connections.