Recently Mr. Mukesh Ambani (Chairman of Reliance JIO) announced that they will launch 5G services in the second half of 2021 in India. (As reported by Business Standard).
On the other hand, Mr. Sunil Bharti Mittal, Chairman of Bharti Airtel, recently said that we could launch 5G in India in 2 to 3 years. (as reported by HT Mint)
This is a bit confusing for most people as both Industry leaders are giving different 5G launch timelines. Let me clarify.
So, what's the truth?
When will 5G services launch in India?
Jio will launch the 5G services in India in 2021 but as a pilot project. The full commercial deployment to all major cities and towns will take 2 years or even more.
Mr. Sunil Bharti Mittal is referring to the full deployment of 5G services in India in his statement. Airtel has also done trials for 5G recently and is working on deployment.
Vodafone Idea and BSNL may also start the trials and testing in 2021 or early 2022, but the full deployment will take 2-3 years for all the operators.
Learning from the Past - 4G Roll-Out In India
I have worked in Telecom for more than 9 years, and let me try to explain how the rollout and deployment will happen for the 5G services.
The deployment of 4G services took more than 5 years. Notably, Airtel was the first to start rolling out 4G services in 2012 (Bharti Airtel rolls out India's first 4G service).
It took a long time for the full deployment (4-5 years). Currently, also, there are several areas where we don't get good data or voice coverage.
In the initial stages, the deployment happened in the metros, and then it happened in tier 2 and 3 cities and later on in small towns and villages.
JIO was one of the fastest to roll out the network, but it also took more than 3 years for the roll-out.
5G Deployment and Roll Out in India?
For 5G too, it will happen in a phased manner in India. Starting with major metros and densely populated areas, then moving to other Smaller towns.
The first thing for the 5G roll out is spectrum auction by the government and then 5G testing at some sites by the operators. We can likely have a 5G auction in the first half of 2021. However, no fixed date is announced yet.
Also, considering Vodafone Idea and Airtel's deplorable financial state due to the AGR dues, I do not see an enthusiastic 5G auction by these companies.
They are already highly leveraged, and more funding into 5g deployment and auction is a tough nut to crack for these debt-ridden telcos.
However, JIO is keen to surge ahead and deploy India-specific standards that Bharti Airtel's CEO is strictly against.
Bharti wants India to follow International standards so that we are at par with the rest of the world and can take advantage of global technology advancements.
Mr. Mukesh Ambani, on the other hand, is pressing for India-specific standards for 5G.
CDMA was superior technology, but it failed as there was no global development, and no one was using the technology. Most global players are on GSM technology.
Jio may be able to roll out 5G in the later part of 2021 in some cities. But that will be more like a pilot launch and testing.
Not all cellular sites will have 5G, even in the metros. Few cell sites will have 5G, and others will work on 4G technology.
Jio announced the Jio fiber broadband back in 2018, and till now, they cannot cover all towns and locations.
When is 5G Coming to Your City?
5G roll out for metros will likely happen in 2022 and for smaller towns in 2023. The rest of the coverage in villages will continue between 2023 and 2025.
Mr. Ambani is not incorrect when he says they will start the deployment in the second half of 2021, but he didn’t say how many cell sites or cities they will launch 5G.
Mr. Mittal is also correct when he says that 5g deployment will take 2 to 3 years as the full roll network rollout for 5G will take time.
So even if you are not buying a 5g smartphone, currently, you are not missing much.
For people in metros, they may still get usable 5g in 2022, but for small towns, the wait is longer.