5G trials: Telcos want India to remove vendor-related restrictions

5G trials India
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Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea, Reliance Jio and state-run BSNL want India to remove equipment and vendor-based application restrictions to conduct 5G trials in the country. The latest demand indicates that they want Huawei and ZTE to be part of 5G trials and commercial deployment upon spectrum availability.

These telcos, through their representative body, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) reached out to the country’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and raised several other issues before they could start 5G trials.

This comes at a time when Chinese gear vendors are going through intense scrutiny in the country following a ban on hundreds of Chinese applications, including TikTok and Alibaba’s e-commerce app.

Interestingly, India’s second-largest telco, Bharti Airtel, has been reducing its exposure to both Huawei and ZTE by replacing them with Ericsson and Nokia in at least three Indian states. Vodafone Idea, however, continues to work with these vendors across many telecom circles and states.

There were media reports that state-run BSNL and MTNL will no longer work with Chinese vendors for network expansion. However, the Indian government has clarified that there is no proposal to ban these companies.

The COAI, in a letter on Thursday, also sought import duty to be waived and restrictions related to country of origin to be removed for trial 5G gear.

The body’s director-general S P Kochhar urged DoT secretary Anshu Prakash to quickly clarify 5G trial timelines.

“…till date the approvals for progressing, instructions for conduct for these trials have not been made clear, and there is no set date for commencement of these trials…It is recommended that the instructions for the conduct of trials for 5G technologies may be issued at the earliest,” Kochhar said in the letter.

Interestingly, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) also roped in members from Chinese gear vendor Huawei to 5G working groups that were recently set up to develop localised 5G use cases in areas like smart agriculture, smart transport, fintech, smart healthcare, smart grid and industry 4.0 among others. The DoT has also included experts from various ministries, start-ups, academia and gear vendors.

Indian telcos have also asked the department to provide flexibility to conduct 5G trials without submitting documents to DoT and its wireless planning and coordination wing (WPC). They said that it would allow them to work with various new software and application providers for trials.

Additionally, they also sought flexibility to conduct lab trials for ‘Make in India’ solutions with “minimum to no requirement” of submitting documents to the department and WPC for spectrum clearance.

Notably, Reliance Jio is developing its own end-to-end 5G portfolio and aims to test it through 5G field and lab trials. It had previously submitted an application with the DoT to conduct trials using its own 5G gear, reportedly based on OpenRAN technology.

As per a couple of media reports, Nokia and Ericsson have said that there was no need to conduct 5G trials in India as the technology is commercially deployed in over 100 countries globally. These vendors have conveyed that the technology is already mature and that India must quickly make 5G spectrum available to Indian telcos at affordable rates allowing them to invest in aggressively rolling out networks.

India is expected to conduct a 4G spectrum auction in January-March 2021, followed by 5G auctions sometime later. 

The representative body also said that licenses for trial spectrum in 3.5 GHz, millimetre wave band, V band, E-band and other unallocated spots in auctioned and non-auctioned bands should be for minimum one year from the date of clearance by customs for import of the equipment.

In the letter, telcos also sought flexibility to conduct 5G trials in any city or location within the circle as per allocated trial spectrum. “There is a need for the nomination of a nodal officer in DoT to enable single-window clearance for all aspects of the conduct of the 5G trials for timely and coordinated actions,” Kochhar said.

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