Bharti Airtel, India’s second-largest telecom operator said that 5G smartphone prices need to reach $200 for mass adoption of high-speed services in the country.
5G smartphones are currently available at a starting price of $400-$500.
“We hear from handset partners that in a year, year and a half, it would be around $200 (less than ₹15,000), which will then be the sweet spot for India for expanding 5G to masses. I think that’s the time when probably India would be ready for 5G,” said Randeep Sekhon, chief technology officer at Bharti Airtel.
Sekhon said that the right time for any new technology is when it can reach masses. “…it will be a year, or a year-and-a-half away before it can be used in retail.”
The 5G devices ecosystem is rapidly developing in India and availability of handsets at affordable rates will spur the growth and drive the migration from 4G to 5G, US-based chipmaker said last month.
Interestingly, Airtel’s bitter rival, Reliance Jio, is planning to launch a $35-$40 5G smartphone, aimed at acquiring 200-300 new subscribers.
Industries, however, will be the first adopter of 5G technology in India, and the focus of telecom operators and their partners should be to develop use cases.
“5G is not just a network but an ecosystem that will bring in digitisation. 5G will trigger a digital revolution not only for the customers but across industries,” Sekhon said, adding that the low-latency and high-bandwidth will be useful for smart industries and smart cities.
Bharti Airtel is currently developing its own 5G network equipment ecosystem with the help of various US and Japan-based companies. It has devised a strategy to locally produce all 5G and wireline products and is currently in advanced talks with US-based Flex and home-bred Tejas Networks.
Sekhon, in an interview with the Economic Times, called for a joint effort by state, central governments and telecom operators for laying digital infrastructure in India.
“…digital infrastructure should be a joint responsibility of national and state governments, telecom providers and consumers. The government needs to treat telecom as an essential service,” he said, adding that the government has to be the facilitator while telecom operators and other players invest and create infrastructure backbone.
Airtel said that it will give 5G spectrum a miss if it is auctioned at the current price in the next round of sale. The telco, however, will buy spectrum in sub-GHz bands for rural coverage and 1800 and 2300 MHz bands for capacity in urban areas.
The Indian government is likely to hold an auction during the January-March period next year. It may auction both 4G and 5G spectrum, as per various media reports.
“We gather from DoT (Department of Telecommunications) that a spectrum sale is likely during January-March next year, but in case 5G airwaves are sold, we can’t afford it at current reserve prices recommended by Trai as there would be no business case,” Airtel CEO Gopal Vittal said during the Q2 earnings call.