Will India’s big three operators get an extra year for 5G trials?

Will India’s big three operators get an extra year for 5G trials?

If reports in the Indian media are correct, Reliance Jio Infocomm, Bharti Aitel and Vodafone Idea – India’s big three operators – want a year’s extension to conduct 5G trials, well after the official finish date of 26 November.

If agreed by government, this would inevitably have a knock-on effect on the delayed plans to auction 5G spectrum; in such circumstances this would most likely not happen much before the second half of 2022. At the moment, the government plans to hold the next auctions in the first quarter of that year.

In some ways, this news may not be unexpected. None of the three operators started 5G trials before June. Vodafone idea only started trials in September. In fact the trial spectrum – in the 700MHz, 3.5GHz and 26GHz bands – was awarded by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) in May.

It has also been argued that the request for a delay has been partly due to issues involving the readiness or otherwise of some 5G ecosystem partners and the fact that many application providers will not be ready until 2022.

The many potential enterprise use cases involved, not to mention consumer applications and potential business partnerships, are also likely to slow things down, as are more mundane issues like handset supply and test and measurement requirements. One thing that does seem surprising is that this hasn’t been discussed earlier; it was clear from an early stage that 5G would make a number of new or more complex demands on operators.

And this isn’t the only 5G issue operators are worried about. The last reserve price fixed by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is seen as far too high, though this may change when, and if, TRAI delivers new recommendations.

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