Indian cellcos will be at least 5G-ready by 2020 with massive MIMO

india 5G
Image credit: NAPI WAN ALI /

ITEM: Indian cellcos are determined not to be left out of the 5G hype cycle, with Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India, Idea Cellular and Reliance Jio already taking the first steps with massive MIMO trials and the first 5G commercial launches slated for 2020. Maybe.

Airtel began deploying massive MIMO at the end of last month in Bangalore and Kolkata as part its “Project Leap” network transformation program. Airtel says the technology will expand its network capacity by five to seven times using the existing spectrum.

The massive MIMO rollout – which is being supplied by Huawei in Bangalore and ZTE in Kolkata – is also part of Airtel’s recently announced strategic partnership with SK Telecom to plot Airtel’s 5G evolution across the board, including 5G NR, SDN/NFV and IoT apps.

Meanwhile, Idea Cellular, Vodafone India and Reliance Jio are trialing massive MIMO in various cities – which, if nothing else, is keeping various telecoms vendors busy, with Huawei and ZTE getting the lion’s share of the action, according to ET Telecom.

Of course, massive MIMO isn’t 5G, strictly speaking – it’s more like 5G-ready. As for whether Indian cellcos will see commercial 5G as early as 2020, that depends who you ask.

Sanjay Kaul, managing director for India & SAARC at Cisco Systems, votes yes, according to an ET Telecom Q&A posted on Monday:

Everybody’s committed towards rolling out 4G, we’re talking about another 50,000 4G base stations. My sense is that by 2020, you’ll see first deployments of 5G in the country.

However, in August, EY Global Telecommunications Leader Prashant Singhal said that India is unlikely to see commercial 5G before 2022, as cellcos face a number of key challenges ranging from high capex and debt to a shortage of fiber backhaul.

Cisco’s Kaul did note that whenever 5G arrives, it’s not going to displace existing services anytime soon, and even 2G still has at least another five years of life left. While that means a lot of Gs to juggle, he told ET Telecom, 5G will actually help cellcos in that regard:

The technologies namely 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G will coexist but when 5G comes, from an Indian context, 3G will take a slow pace because as you move forward in Gs, 4G to 5G, the technology becomes more efficient and particularly 5G technology has number of inherent advantages—you can do network slicing, it is ready for IoT (Internet of Things) kind of support.

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