‘India may miss 5G bus’: Parl panel lambasts lack of preparedness

New Delhi: As 5G dreams eludes Indians despite the government’s emphasis on technology and fifth-generation connectivity, the Standing Committee on Information Technology has raised concerns that India “may miss the 5G bus” due to inadequate availability of spectrum, high spectrum prices, low fiberisation among others.

Highlighting the concerns leading to the delay, the report of the panel chaired by Congress’ Shashi Tharoor said that it is “disappointing” to note that the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has hardly learnt from the past delays as the vision for 5G, which was reflected in the setting up of the High-Level Forum and Expert Committees, has not been transformed into action on the ground and is not reflected in the policies formulated by the government.

The panel, in its report, has noted that poor development of use cases, non-uniform Rights of Way (RoW), deficient backhaul capacity among others are also factors coming in the way of rolling out of 5G services in India.

“There are apprehensions that India is set to miss the ‘5G bus’ due to lack of preparedness, spectrum issues, inadequate use-case development, uncertainty around sale of radio waves for 5G, etc,” the report presented in the parliament said.

According to the report, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) has informed the panel that even though the report of the 5G High Level Forum has been released by the DoT in August, 2018, only minimal implementation instructions have been issued so far.

Spectrum issues which are at the heart of 5G are yet to be resolved, noted the panel, adding that the telecom service providers (TSP) have submitted that spectrum bands for 5G are yet to be identified and made available to them.

“The current reserve price of spectrum is one of the highest in the world, which needs to be rationalised taking into account per capita income and reserve price benchmarks of other countries, 5G trial applications have been submitted by the TSPs in the month of January 2020.”

However, till date the guidelines for trials have not been made clear and there is no set date for commencement of these trials, it added.

Asked about the timeline for the rollout of 5G, the DoT Secretary informed the committee that in India, 5G technology will initially ride on 4G technology.

In the initial years, the core will be 4G and the radio access network will be 5G.

Firstly, 5G will not be rolled out pan-India, but in selected areas where the demand would justify the capex. The committee has been informed that by the end of calendar year 2021 or beginning of 2022, there will be some roll out in India in some specific uses because 4G should continue in India for at least another 5-6 years, said the report.

“From the foregoing, the Committee are inclined to conclude that sufficient preparatory work has not been undertaken for launching of 5G services in India,” the Tharoor-led panel said in its report.

The parliamentary committee said that when many countries are swiftly moving towards 5G technology, India is likely to witness its deployment only by the end of 2021 or early part of 2022, that too partially.

So it is very likely that after missing the 2G, 3G and 4G bus, India is going to miss on 5G opportunities, unless time-bound action is taken in core areas where governmental intervention is required, it said.

The committee said that it trusts that the government will take expeditious action on the pending recommendations of the TRAI as it is yet to take action on many of the recommendations of the telecom regulator on issues which have direct bearing on 5G deployment.