BSNL could launch 5G within one year

Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd could end up launching 5G services as early as the first half of 2019, going by comments made by a senior official at an industry forum today.

Speaking at the Mobile Device Summit 2018 organized by ‘The Mobile Association’, Anil Jain, the company’s Chief General Manager in charge of New Generation Networks promised there would be no delay in the launch of 5G like it happened with 3G and 4G.

“BSNL would launch 5G services the same day as their launch globally,” he said.

It is an ambitious goal, given that the standalone 5G standards have been published earlier this week and equipment vendors have started testing their 5G equipment before putting them on the market.

As a result, the first 5G networks are likely to come up this year. In fact, US operator AT&T is already on the record saying that it will introduce the first standalone 5G networks in 12 US cities this year.

BSNL DELAYS

BSNL, on the other hand, has not even been able to launch 4G despite having received 4G spectrum around 8 years ago.

The delay has been attributed to various reasons, including lack of funds, lack of clarity on business models, lack of leadership, political interference and even corruption and bureaucratic hurdles.

However, the delay in rolling out 4G has now pushed BSNL to the brink of irrelevance and obsoletion.

On the other hand, it could also use it as an advantage by now focusing all its energies on the 5G space, while other operators are focused on maintaining and expanding their 4G networks.

STANDARDS READY

The standards body for advanced telecommunication technologies, 3GPP, finalized non-standalone 5G standards in December last year, and standalone 5G standards earlier this week.

It is likely that big incumbent players like Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio will adopt the non-standalone version, which uses a mix of 4G and 5G technologies.

The standalone version does not require a 4G network to function, and could be deployed by operators who do not have an existing 4G network, making it suitable for BSNL.

Vodafone Idea too is likely to use its 2500 MHz spectrum — still not deployed — for 5G early next year.

AUCTION IMPACT

The finalization of 5G standards and the testing of network equipment is likely to give a shot in the arm for Government of India’s attempts to sell more radio frequencies to operators.

Telecom operators have generally not been very keen on buying more spectrum, given that a large part of the spectrum that they’ve bought in previous years is yet to be deployed due to the slow nature of telecom network roll out.

However, if commercial 5G equipment is made available this year, operators are more likely to buy 5G spectrum in any auction conducted later this year or early in 2019.

Even though 5G can work in some of the same spectrum bands that are currently being used for 4G in India — such as 2500 MHz — the government is planning to sell frequencies closer to 3.5 GHz for the technology.

Unlike 4G deployments, which can be done over small slices of 5 MHz or 10 MHz, 5G deployments are likely to use chunks of 30-100 MHz per network, driving data speeds that rival fiber broadband.

Airtel has already announced that it is deploying a key element of 5G technology in Mumbai to get over congestion issues in 4G networks in Mumbai.

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