Airtel, Jio 5G to cover cities in phases | The Financial Express

Airtel, Jio 5G to cover cities in phases

Both Airtel and Jio are internally drawing up plans as to which areas of these cities will be covered first and the pace at which services will be expanded.

Airtel, Jio 5G to cover cities in phases
On Saturday, Bharti Airtel became the first operator to launch 5G services in eight cities, including Delhi, Mumbai, Varanasi, and Bangalore. (Bloomberg)

By Jatin Grover

Mobile subscribers waiting anxiously for the rollout of 5G services in their city later this month maybe a bit disappointed — depending on the area where they live. While Bharti Airtel has launched 5G services in eight cities on October 1, and Reliance Jio is going to do so around Diwali, they will not cover the entire city at one go.

Since the intra-city rollout will be in a phased manner, there’s no possibility of a tariff war — that is, operators coming out with an inaugural offer with very low rates. Operators have already discounted charging any premium for 5G services.

Company executives told FE the rollout of services within a circle (city) will be in a phased manner. For instance, in the case of Delhi-NCR, 5G services may be available say only in Connaught Place and Lutyen’s Delhi in the beginning, and not in areas like Mayur Vihar and Noida.

On Saturday, Bharti Airtel became the first operator to launch 5G services in eight cities, including Delhi, Mumbai, Varanasi, and Bangalore. Similarly, Jio said its initial launch around Diwali will be in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and Kolkata.

Both Airtel and Jio are internally drawing up plans as to which areas of these cities will be covered first and the pace at which services will be expanded.

Both operators told FE that the phased rollout makes sense as there’s not enough 5G devices at the moment, so if the entire city is covered at one go the network won’t have enough subscribers.

Currently, only around 8% of handsets in the country are 5G-enabled, which means of the total 600 million smartphone users, only 50 million have 5G phones. However, sales of these handsets are projected to rise over the next few months. According to Counterpoint Research, during the October-December quarter, 5G-enabled handsets would contribute around 35% to overall sales of smartphones. With this, the number of installed 5G phones would go up to around 85 million — 14% of overall active smartphones. According to brokerage firm CLSA, the number is estimated to reach 250 million by FY25.

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This, along with the replacement cycle of phones of 27-28 months, will see more 5G-enabled handsets over a year or so, by when the 5G services will also expand.

The technical issue which the operators are likely to face in increasing the 5G penetration in the initial few months is that not all installed 5G handsets may be compatible with the 5G signals, as most of them may be tuned to the spectrum bands used in China. For instance, the millimetre band which has been auctioned in India is not used in China for 5G services. Industry and trade sources said it is quite likely that sub-Rs 20,000 5G handsets in the market may not be compatible with the spectrum bands auctioned in India.

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