The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has cleared the much-delayed 5G trials, allowing Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio, and Vodafone Idea’s applications that seek to partner non-Chinese equipment vendors to work on developing use cases relevant for India on the next-gen technology. The trials will initially be for six months.
“The applicant TSPs (telecom service providers) include Bharti Airtel Ltd, Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd, Vodafone Idea Ltd, and MTNL. These TSPs have tied up with original equipment manufacturers and technology providers, which are Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung, and C-DOT,” the DoT said in a statement.
“In addition, Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd will also be conducting trials using its own indigenous technology,” DoT added. The trials can start today (Wednesday) but there is no clarity on the timeline for the next spectrum sale, which will see the 5G spectrum make its debut.
Names of Chinese players Huawei and ZTE were missing from the list of 13 applications from telcos that were approved by the government, in a clear signal that the two gear makers would not be a part of India’s 5G deployments as well.
While both the Chinese telecom gear makers declined to comment, a senior executive at one of the two companies was still hopeful. “The government hasn’t said it has blocked the Chinese vendors… just that their applications weren’t processed as only the priority applications were given an approval,” the executive said.
In the initial 5G applications for trials, which were first slated to be held in early 2019, both Airtel and Vodafone Idea had applied to partner with Huawei and ZTE in some geographies. Since then India-China border tensions peaked. Then, the telcos were again asked to submit a set of “priority vendors” for 5G trials. In response, Jio had named Samsung, Nokia, and Ericsson besides applying to trial its own technology. Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea opted for Finland’s Nokia and Sweden’s Ericsson while MTNL applied to partner state-run Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DoT).
Industry insiders said this was a way for the government to start the much-delayed trials without having to take an explicit decision on keeping Huawei and ZTE away amid border tensions with China.
“We are hopeful that various use cases in telemedicine, agriculture, and education will be developed in the trial period. In a departure from the previous practice of first auctioning spectrum and then allowing telcos to try new technology like in 4G, this time we have reduced the gap between the trial of a technology which is happening first and then the auction of the bandwidth,” DoT secretary Anshu Prakash.
Carriers are being given 100 Mhz each in the mid-band (3.2 GHz to 3.67 GHz), 800 Mhz each in the millimeter-wave band (24.25 GHz to 28.5 GHz), and 10 Mhzeach in the 700 GHz.
“Telecom service providers will also be permitted to use their own spectrum in the 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, and 2500 Mhz,” the statement issued by the government said.
The trial period of six months is inclusive of the estimated time period of two months for procurement and setting up of the equipment, DoT said.
The DoT though has laid out stringent conditions for testing, including testing use cases in rural as well as urban areas and paying special attention to the security of the network. Telcos were warned that they need to use the airwaves allotted strictly for trials and not for commercial deployment, a clause if breached will be met with serious consequences, the official said. Also, any data generated in the trials will have to be stored in the country.
It (the trials) will stimulate the local R&D ecosystem to develop innovative applications tailored to commercial needs. It will enable TSPs to validate 5G technologies and use cases such as IoT and Industry 4.0,” SP Kochhar, director-general of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) said in a statement. “We hope the government will also look into the industry’s call for revisiting the 5G spectrum pricing.”
COAI represents all private telcos as well as gear vendors.
“We are confident of our readiness to support our customers in implementing the 5G strategy with the advantage of our technology leadership, our experience in serving customers globally, and our initiatives in India including 5G manufacturing in Chennai,” a Nokia spokesperson said in a separate statement.
Telcos have been encouraged to conduct trials using indigenously developed 5Gi technology in addition to the already known 5G technology.
“The trials geographical area will be limited to 30 G Nodes in case of foreign 5G technology and 300 G Nodes for indigenously developed technology since foreign-based technologies have undergone trials but indigenously developed technologies need (to be trialed),” the official added. Nodes reflect the geographical area covered for trial purposes.