5G Launch in India May Get Delayed as Spectrum Auctions Pushed to Q1 2022, Govt to Focus on Sub-6GHz Bands

India's 5G rollout has been delayed so far, and a spectrum auction in the first quarter of next year will push the actual rollout to at least the end of 2022.

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linking Covid-19 and 5G

Auctions for the 5G spectrum in India are likely to be pushed to the first quarter of 2022, according to a new report. The Department of Telecom (DoT) is apparently “preoccupied” with making sure networks remain stable during the pandemic, and has hence put off decisions on spectrum availability and pricing. “It is unlikely that auctions will happen this year and will get postponed. The focus currently is on keeping networks stable,” a senior government official told The Economic Times. The DoT had approved the first 5G trials to be held in India earlier this week.

Further, the ET report also quoted a second government official saying there was “no pressing need” for an early sale for 5G spectrum in India, since telcos will need at least six months to conduct 5G trials and develop “local use cases”. This, though, may not be entirely correct since 5G is an evolutionary technology and telcos and telecom gear makers around the world have been preparing for it for a few years now. As a result, a lot of the industrial and consumer use cases have already been developed and are ready to be deployed.

The ET report also pointed out that the government has allowed 5G trials before selling spectrum, an aberration from how things were done with 3G and 4G connectivity. The government has given telcos two months to acquire and set up their equipment for the trials, and the same must be completed within six months. Telecom companies Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio, Vodafone and state-owned MTNL have received permission to conduct trials. The government hasn’t approved Chinese telecom gear makers for supplying equipment though, meaning telcos will have to go to Ericsson, Samsung, Nokia or Reliance Jio, which is developing its own technologies.

The spectrum sale for 5G is expected between January to March of 2022, meaning the first quarter of the calendar year. ET pointed out that this would allow the government to still count the revenue from these sales for the 2021 financial year. 4G spectrum auctions had led to Rs. 78000 crore in the sale of 4G spectrum, about Rs. 22000 of which had been received before the financial year ended, said the report.

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