Airtel wants uniform guidelines for India’s 5G handset ecosystem

5G handset ecosystem
Image by bestforbest | Bigstockphoto

Bharti Airtel, India’s second-largest telecom operator, has urged the country’s Department of Telecommunications to bring uniform guidelines to develop the 5G smartphone ecosystem. The telco said that most of the 5G smartphones being sold currently support the mid-band, whereas more bands will be used to offer high-speed internet service.

The Sunil Mittal-led telco, in its letter to the department, recommended that any new 5G handset sold in India must support all existing bands in India for 5G, including the mm-wave bands.

The telecom operator is currently conducting 5G field trials using 700 MHz, 3.5GHz and 28 GHz bands. It had previously demonstrated live 5G using commercial 4G spectrum in the 1800 MHz band in Hyderabad. It said that the pan-India network has the end-to-end capability to support commercial 5G services. 

The letter, reviewed by the Financial Express newspaper, highlighted the need for all 5G smartphones to support dynamic spectrum sharing along with 2G, 4G and 5G support on both SIM slots.

Dual-SIM smartphones are fairly popular in the Indian handset market. 

There are already five million 5G smartphones active on telecom operators’ networks in India, as GSM telco body the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI). In May 2021, almost 14% of the smartphones sold in May were the 5G devices, as per market tracker Counterpoint Research.

“… since around 50% of smartphone users in India change or upgrade their handsets at least after two years of usage, any further delay in creating the much-needed device ecosystem would hamper India’s ambition to be a leader in 5G technology,” the telco said in its letter to the DoT.

Indian telecom operators intend to use spectrum in sub-GHz bands like 800 MHz and 900 MHz, and 1800 MHz and 2100 MHz for their 5G services in future. These bands are currently being used for 3G and 4G services. 

“However, the provision of 5G services in such existing multiple spectrum bands can only happen with the availability of handsets if the minimum features to support 5G services are ensured,” Airtel was quoted as saying by the publication. 

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) had previously clarified that telecom operators could use any telecom technology using any band to offer voice and data services. Indian telcos can launch any new technology by providing relevant information to the department six months before the commercial launch. 

Airtel previously said that 5G handset prices need to fall between Rs 10,000-Rs 15,000 range for mass uptake. “4G was successful due to lower prices. We will work with all device partners to bring 5G smartphones to support all new and existing bands and technologies like dynamic spectrum sharing,” Randeep Sekhon, CTO of Airtel, previously told media.

Notably, China’s Realme said that it would “massify” 5G technology by bringing sub-Rs 10,000 (sub-$134) 5G smartphones to the users in India next year. India’s top telco, Reliance Jio, is planning to launch an ultra-affordable 5G smartphone next year, coinciding with its commercial 5G network launch. 

Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea have already started 5G field trials across various cities in the mid and mm-wave bands in partnership with Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung. Jio is also piloting its own 5G radio and core technologies in Navi Mumbai.

The Indian government hasn’t shared a timeline for the next round of spectrum auctions. However, a spectrum auction is expected to be held during the first quarter of the next fiscal.

China’s Realme aims to ‘massify’ 5G with sub-$135 smartphones in India

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