Telecom gear makers, who are in talks with telcos, say that if all goes well, they are ready to roll out the first phase of 5G services from October this year and cover the country’s top 30-50 cities (in limited areas) by March 2023.
The gear makers expect the telecom companies to give them a heads-up about their plans as well as the equipment required by July, and have promised deployment in three to four months after that.
India’s main telecom gear suppliers are Nokia, Ericsson and Samsung.
Says a top executive of a leading telecom gear maker: “Deployment time has become much faster now because of substantial automation.
"We will put the 5G equipment on existing installed infrastructure like towers which have a fibre backbone, so nothing has to be built from ground up in this phase. With the large manpower already available with us for maintenance, it will take three to four months at most to deploy and launch 5G services.”
According to the gear makers, on an average, the first phase will require about 1,000 towers in each city to be enabled with 5G gear. (Delhi alone will need 4,000 towers).
The executive says that although there has been a global problem with the delivery of telecom equipment because of the shortage of chips and other components on account of the Covid-related lockdowns in China, India is a priority volume market.
“The feedback we get is that despite these pressures, delivery in India will be given priority as we are seen as an important large-volume market, So we don’t foresee any delay.”
According to the gear makers, a pan-India deployment of 5G services will require at least 2-2.5 lakh towers to be powered with 5G equipment, apart from the addition of 5G poles on street furniture and deployment of ultra Massive Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO).
Hence, the complete rollout could take at least five years.
Motilal Oswal had projected that the telcos would need invest Rs 1.3-2.3 lakh crore to launch a pan-India 5G network.
With the Cabinet expected to meet next week to clear 5G spectrum prices, the department of telecommunication (DoT) plans to start the auction process in June and complete it by July.
Telcos have told the gear makers that once they get the spectrum, they will finalise plans for deployment and equipment.
Ericsson and Nokia are already running 5G trials with Airtel and Vodafone Idea, and Samsung is doing a trial with Reliance Jio.
Under the spectrum allocation condition, telcos have a rollout obligation, although DoT has reduced some of these targets after they were strongly contested by them.
There is a different rollout obligation specified for both frequencies of 5G spectrum — the 3500 MHz band and the millimetre band.
Rollout obligations have been laid down at the end of the first year (within which telcos have to do a commercial launch anywhere in the licensed service area), third year and the fifth year.
Top telecom gear makers like Nokia and Ericsson who are eligible under the production-linked incentive scheme either directly or through their vendors, are planning to manufacture some key products like the 5G radio in India.
This, too, will result in the faster deployment of equipment.
However, in the initial stages, part of the equipment may have to be imported.