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Volume IconHow prepared are we to roll out next-generation mobile networks?

PM Modi recently said that India is planning to launch 6G services by the end of this decade. But are we ready? While the 5G launch still looks like a distant dream, this report does a reality check

ImageKhalid Anzar New Delhi

Connectivity will decide the progress of the country in the 21th century, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at an event organised by Trai where he unveiled the 5G testbeds for companies to test and validate their products, services and use cases. PM Modi also said that India is targeting the rollout of 6G telecom network by the end of the decade.

The PM’s announcement may set things in motion for timely rollout of 5G services and put India ahead of the curve in time of launching 6G, believes Lt Gen Dr SP Kochhar, Director General, COAI.

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We may get ahead of the curve in future for 6G because we are starting early, but are we on track for timely rollout of 5G services?

While many countries across the world have rolled out 5G services, India is yet to auction the 5G airwaves, let alone the commercial rollout.

According to Ookla’s 5G network tracker, India is one of the few major countries without a 5G network.

Countries like France and Germany have extremely dense 5G coverage. Apart from European countries, China, Australia, the US, several South American countries and a few African countries also have 5G in some capacity.

For context on where we stand today, let’s take a look at what Bharti Airtel management said in a post-earnings conference call on Wednesday. The company believes that it will take another 3-4 years to cover most part of urban India.

But why do we need 5G for connectivity when 4G is capable of high-speed data services. Well, the answer is simple. We have a wide coverage of 4G networks in the country but speed is as good as 2G.

According to OOKLA’s global ranking index, India is positioned at 118 with 14.19 Mbps medium mobile download speed in April. In comparison, 4G speed in the US ranges between 35-40 Mbps. That said, it is vital to take steps now to have better speed on 5G along with wide network coverage. Otherwise, it will be the repeat of 3G and 4G for India.

Besides, the delay in 5G network rollout and abysmal 4G speeds there is a legacy issue of mobile users stuck on 2G network.

It needs immediate attention if the country has to move to a fully functioning digital economy where ultra-fast connectivity takes precedent.

India is home to more than 1.16 billion telecom users, according to Trai subscriber report for March 2022. Of them, about 350 million users are on the 2G network.

Telecom operators and mobile phone makers have made efforts to bring 2G users to 4G network, but the pace of progress has been slow due to premium price factors associated with 4G data tariffs and smartphones.

With telecoms stretching their revenue benchmarks and rising prices of smartphones due to component shortage, it might become an uphill task to move the substantial user base on 2G network to 4G, and 5G thereafter.

According to a report, rural India has seen 45 per cent growth in ‘active internet users' since 2019. The report said that India has 646 million active Internet users aged 2 years and above as of December 2021. 

But the study also revealed that almost 60 per cent of the rural population is still not actively using the internet, paving headroom for further growth. Rising ambition and dependence on technology will drive the future growth of mobile phone and internet service providers. But a speedy rollout of an advanced mobile network is the key.

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First Published: May 19 2022 | 7:00 AM IST

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