India says, Hello 5G!

India heralded the 5G era in the country with Prime Minister Narendra Modi announcing the launch of 5G at the India Mobile Congress (IMC) recently. 

While Bharti Airtel launched the 5G services two days back, Jio announced the launch of its beta 5G services, available only through an invite.

As of now, Airtel 5G services are available only in eight cities: Delhi, Nagpur, Varanasi, Chennai, Hyderabad, Siliguri, Bengaluru and Mumbai. The company announced that it would be covering the entire country by March 2024.

Reliance Jio’s 5G service will be available in four cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Varanasi initially before it is expanded across the country by December 2023. The service provider decided to launch on the day of Dussehra (a major Indian festival celebrating the victory of good over evil) on October 5. The Jio subscribers will get unlimited data with 1 Gbps speed as part of the True 5G Welcome offer.

On the other hand, Vodafone Idea is yet to reveal the launch plan of 5G services. The indications are that it will be some time before the service provider is able to launch 5G services as it is yet to close 5G gear deals.

India’s government-owned service provider, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) plans to launch 5G services by August 2023. The service provider is yet to launch 4G services, so there will be hardly any gap between the introduction of BSNL’s 4G and 5G services. 

5G pricing 

While neither Airtel nor Jio have revealed the 5G prices, the indications are that they will not be charging a premium for 5G services. Airtel’s services are available at 4G rates and don’t require a SIM change.

With Jio’s Akash Ambani, Chairman, Reliance Jio, saying that 5G should be available to “every citizen, every home, and every business across India,” it is clear that Jio’s 5G pricing strategy will be similar to its 4G strategy and will focus on keeping the services affordable for common people. Jio could possibly set the tone and ensure that Airtel and Vodafone Idea also keep the 5G tariffs economical to prevent churn of their subscriber base.

Jio is also referring to its 5G services as `True 5G’ to set its services apart from others since it is the only telco to have procured 700 MHz spectrum, which it might use.

All three top telcos made a slew of announcements over the last few days during India Mobile Congress (IMC). Vodafone Idea demonstrated several use cases, including immersive mobile 5G cloud gaming, SmartAgri for farmers and Gurushala (cloud-based collaborative knowledge exchange platform for teachers and students), among others. On the other hand, Airtel demonstrated Holographic as one of the 5G use cases.

Reliance Jio touted the fact that its Jio True 5G is powered by Jio Platform’s 5G technology – built indigenously by Indian engineers at Jio.

India concluded 5G auctions about two months back, and this is possibly the fastest launch of a new technology network. Even so, while Airtel and Jio might have launched the services, it seems to be a token launch as it will be some time before the Indian citizens will be able to enjoy the services as the coverage is limited. 

They are investing around $19.5 billion in building 5G networks by 2025, according to a recent GSMA report. Over the next few months, the service providers will be expanding the services in newer areas and introducing new use cases. All in all, exciting times ahead for Indian telecom industry!