5G Launch Possible Within Two Quarters of Spectrum Auction: Airtel CTO

AirtelBharti Airtel said that first 5G network will be launched within two-quarters of spectrum auction and can cover a large part of the country after one year. The Sunil Mittal-led telecom operator also conducted India’s first rural 5G trial with Swedish telecoms equipment maker Ericsson at the outskirts of Delhi/NCR.

Airtel’s chief technology officer Randeep Sekhon said that 5G auctions could take place early next year.

“Within two quarters after the auction, 5G networks can go live. After 1 year, we can see a large portion of the country getting covered by 5G,” Sekhon said.

The government, however, might miss its January-March timeline to conduct an auction of 4G and 5G airwaves unless the telecom regulator sends in its pricing recommendations by November. If there is a delay, then the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) will conduct the 5G sale later on in 2022 but may not wait until the fourth quarter of the next fiscal year.

The DoT has recently sent a reference to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), seeking fresh starting prices for existing 4G and 5G spectrum bands, plus for new bands like the millimetre wave frequencies in 26 GHz and 28 GHz bands that also support 5G technology.

Trai will now need to get back to the telecom department on the pricing, as well as other points such as details of the auction and quantity to be put up for sale.

The telco is committed to the OpenRAN journey, he said, adding that some part of its 5G network will be built using OpenRAN technology. “It will open up the network ecosystem. We started our journey and are open about it. This is a technology of the future and needs to mature and be made secure,” he added.

Sekhon said that Airtel’s network is 5G ready and is being further prepared for the high-speed technology. 

On 5Gi or local 5G standard, Sekhon said that Airtel is yet to see a lab where the technology can be tested. “We are keenly watching the standard and its impact on handset and radio. However, we are currently looking at technology which is commercially already available.”

Sekhon said that 5G technology by 3GPP is already matured globally and the telco is conducting trials to test 5G use cases for consumers and industries.

“Industry 4.0 is already being enabled by 4G technology. 5G, however, will solve certain use cases with low-latency and higher bandwidth. We are working with various industries like port, airports, mining, FMCG, logistics on solving industrial efficiency. Industry 4.0 has been built upon safety, productivity, efficiency. When 5G comes in these things could become even better. The new core capability of network slicing can help and unlock new industrial use case,” he added.

Airtel and Ericsson, in a joint statement, said that the trial demonstrated over 200Mbps throughput on 3GPP-compliant 5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) device located more than 10km from the site. It showcased that a commercially available 3GPP-based 5G smartphone could connect to the test network and record over 100Mbps speeds at a distance of more than 10km from the site.

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