But the problem is that 5G speeds, which is very different from 4G, requires large amounts of spectrum which would not be possible by optimising the existing bands of 4G spectrum.
For those excited by Bharti Airtel’s demonstration of 5G services using its existing 4G spectrum in Hyderabad, which is likely to be done by Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea too, here’s a reality check. The department of telecommunications may allow operators to use existing spectrum bands to provide any services, including 5G, but it does not necessarily mean that 5G services will start in India in 2021.
The answer to the question is both yes and no. Yes, it will arrive in name. No, if one is expecting real 5G services which means much faster speeds than what 4G provides today.
To understand why the real deal is still not possible, one needs to understand how this technology is different from 2G, 3G and 4G. To provide services under these technologies, different networks have to be created but in case of 5G services, a different layer of network is not required.
Through dynamic spectrum sharing the same spectrum can be used to provide 4G as well as 5G services.
But the problem is that 5G speeds, which is very different from 4G, requires large amounts of spectrum which would not be possible by optimising the existing bands of 4G spectrum. For real 5G speeds, operators need spectrum in the 3.5 Ghz band, which the government is not putting up for auctions planned in March.
Some confusion has been created by the government also. In the notice inviting applications (NIA) for the March auctions, the DoT had put in a clause that operators would need to give a year’s notice if they wanted to use the spectrum acquired for providing any new technology services. On January 28, the government shortened this period to six months. Many observers viewed this as the government willing to allow operators to provide 5G services using existing spectrum bands, thus signalling arrival of the services in the country within this year itself.
Before 3G technology came to India, operators provided 2G services using CDMA and GSM technologies. Since CDMA spectrum was more efficient, operators using it would say that if permitted by government, they can start providing 3G services using their 2G spectrum only. This was strongly contested by GSM operators then. Today, operators are not divided into two technology camps, but providing 5G services using existing spectrum bands is similar to CDMA operators saying back then that they can provide 3G services without getting spectrum in 2100 (3G) Mhz band.
Gopal Vittal, MD and CEO, Bharti Airtel (India and south Asia), on January 28 pointed out that though his company’s network is fully ready and 5G can be switched on using the existing spectrum, since 5G requires big chunks of spectrum, it will wait for the government to auction more airwaves, like in 3.5 GHz band.
Randeep Sekhon, chief technology officer of Bharti Airtel, was prescient when he said 3.5 Ghz should be utilised for 5G, as a large chunk of spectrum is required and later all other bands can be re-farmed and used for 5G.