Indian telcos finally receive approval to conduct 5G field trials

India 5G field trials
Image by lucadp | Bigstockphoto

India has formally allowed Reliance Jio, Vodafone Idea, Bharti Airtel and state-run MTNL to conduct 5G field trials with multinational and domestic telecom gear vendors. However, the country’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT) hasn’t revealed any information about Huawei and ZTE’s participation in these trials.

“The Department of Telecommunications (DoT), Government of India, approved today, permissions to Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) for conducting trials for use and applications of 5G technology.  The applicant TSPs include Bharti Airtel Ltd., Reliance JioInfocomm Ltd., Vodafone Idea Ltd. and MTNL,” the DoT said in an official release on Tuesday.

The department said that state-run telecom gear vendor, C-DoT, will also provide its 5G technology to MTNL.

“The permissions have been given by DoT as per the priorities and technology partners identified by telcos themselves,” the DoT said.

All Indian telecom operators had last year submitted various applications seeking approval from the Indian government for 5G trials. However, their last applications mentioned “priority vendors” for these trials, excluding Huawei and ZTE.

Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Jio’s had named Samsung, Nokia and Ericsson as its priority vendors besides applying to trial its own 5G technology.

Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel also mentioned Ericsson and Nokia as their priority vendors in different circles. Recently, both older telcos submitted a separate application to conduct Open RAN-based 5G trials with US-based Mavenir.

Additionally, the DoT has “encouraged” Indian telecom operators to conduct trials using locally developed 5G radio interface technology, 5Gi technology, which was recently approved by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). “The 5Gi technology has been developed by IIT Madras, Centre of Excellence in Wireless Technology (CEWiT) and IIT Hyderabad, and has b

Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) Madras, IIT Hyderabad and Centre of Excellence in Wireless Technology (CEWiT) have developed the 5Gi technology under the leadership of Telecom Standards Development Society, India (TSDSI), which is responsible for Telecommunications standards development in the country.

The department said that the 5Gi technology facilitates a much larger reach of the 5G towers and radio networks. However, private telecom operators and global gear vendors said that locally developed 5G standard may not be interoperable with 3GPP’s global specifications and making 5Gi-based networks mandatory will lead to higher deployment cost, resulting in delayed adoption of high-speed broadband service in the country.

The experimental spectrum is being given in various bands, which include the mid-band (3.2 GHz to 3.67 GHz), the millimetre-wave band (24.25 GHz to 28.5 GHz) and the Sub-Gigahertz band (700 GHz).

Indian telecom operators will also be allowed to use their existing spectrum owned by them in 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz and 2500 MHz bands to conduct 5G trials, the department said in its media statement.

“The duration of the trials, at present, is for a period of 6 months. This includes a time period of 2 months for procurement and setting up of the equipment,” DoT said.

The department said that telecom operators would have to conduct trials in “rural, semi-urban settings and urban settings” so that the benefit of 5G technology proliferates across the country and is not confined only to only urban areas.

“The objectives of conducting 5G trials include testing 5G spectrum propagation characteristics especially in the Indian context; model tuning and evaluation of chosen equipment and vendors; testing of indigenous technology,” the DoT said.

With 5G trials, the department aims to test various use cases such as telemedicine, tele-education, augmented/ virtual reality and drone-based agricultural monitoring, among others.

5G technology is expected to deliver improved user experience in terms of data download rates (expected to be 10 times that of 4G), up to three times greater spectrum efficiency, and ultra-low latency to enable Industry 4.0. Applications are across a wide range of sectors such as agriculture, education, health, transport, traffic management, smart cities, smart homes, and multiple applications of IoT (Internet of Things).

The department also specified that the trials would be isolated and not connected with the existing networks of telecom operators. “…trials will be on a non-commercial basis.  The data generated during the trials shall be stored in India,” it added.

Indian telecom operators are also expected to facilitate the testing of the indigenously developed use cases and equipment as part of the trials. The department had recently shortlisted 100 5G applications or use cases after conducting the recent Hackathon on 5G applications can also be facilitated in these trials. Last year, India set up eight different groups to come up with localised 5G use cases in areas like smart agriculture, smart transport, fintech, smart healthcare, smart grid and industry 4.0, among others. The telecom department had then roped in experts from various ministries, start-ups, academia and gear vendors.

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