Reliance Jio, India’s top telecom operator, believes that the country will likely have 100-150 million 5G smartphone users by the time telcos commercially rollout the next-generation high-speed broadband service.
India’s 5G smartphone user base is already nearing 50 million at a time when there is no clear timeline for the commercial rollout of 5G services. As per market trackers, the 5G smartphone user base has grown ten times in the last 12 months.
Last week, the country’s telecom regulator started a consultations process for setting up base prices across ten frequency bands for the commercial launch of 5G services. Once the process is completed, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) will start the auction process.
Both Jio and Bharti Airtel had previously claimed to launch 5G services within six months of spectrum auction. 5G spectrum sale is expected in April-May 2022 period. Both these telecom operators and Vodafone Idea are conducting 5G trials using spectrum in sub-GHz bands, 3.5 GHz and 28 GHz bands.
“We can expect between 100 to 150 million 5G smartphones existing in the country by the time the network starts off…there are about 500 million smartphone users, and by the time the 5G network rolls out, the number will be 600 million,” Sunil Dutt, president devices and mobility, for Jio said during a panel discussion at the India Mobile Congress virtual event which concluded on Friday.
Reliance Jio had launched its network in 2016 with ultra-affordable data services bundled with cheap smartphones.
“We’ve already seen how 4G actually impacted the country. And there was a generational shift from 2G to 4G because 3G really did not have any kind of an impact on this country,” Dutt said.
He said that the whole ecosystem needs to come together to drive 5G smartphone affordability. “…affordability has to be not just driven by the brands or the device brands trying to make cheaper phones because they will not like to compromise the devices, but they are also going to be how the entire ecosystem can make it affordable for the customer,” he said, adding that financing option can be explored in the 5G smartphone space to drive affordability.
Jio is already trying to encourage its existing 4G feature phone users to shift to a full-fledged smartphone, JioPhone Next. The telco has rolled out financing options with the phone, which is developed in partnership with Google, aiming to attract 2G feature phone users from rival telecom operators.
In India, 5G smartphones are already available under Rs 15,000 price segment. Lenovo-owned Motorola last week launched its cheapest 5G smartphone with 12 5G bands support at Rs 14,999 ($198)
Other brands like Vivo, Realme and Oppo are also driving 5G smartphone shipments in the country. Realme’s India CEO Madhav Sheth recently informed local media that the brand would only launch 5G smartphones in the Rs 15,000 ($198) and above price segment in 2022 and has a goal to “massify” 5G technology by bringing sub-Rs 10,000 (sub-$134) 5G smartphones to the users in India.
Raghavan Sampath, director at MediaTek India, who presented his views at the same panel, said that 5G smartphone prices will reach $150 in 2022. Today 5G phones have breached sub Rs15,000 already. By 2022 expectation is that it would go between $150 and $200.
He, however, said that both 4G and 5G smartphones would coexist in India.
A few days back, Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani said the rollout of 5G services should be made India’s national priority and that Jio is ready to “quickly and seamlessly “upgrade its network from 4G to 5G.