The leaders of the three private service providers – Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio – have used a recent industry event to talk about the challenges they face as India slowly moves towards 5G.
The high cost of 5G spectrum is one of the biggest concerns of the industry.
Several players, including Bharti Airtel, have mentioned in the past that they will not be able to participate in the auction unless and until the base price of the spectrum is brought down.
Ride on: The road to 5G isn't an easy one, according to India's top three service providers. (Source: rahul jarwal on Unsplash)
"It is important for [5G] spectrum to be available at at least possible cost, because you want to spend money on rolling out networks and building the spine that the country needs," said Gopal Vittal, CEO at Bharti Airtel, India's second-largest service provider.
He also highlighted the need for E-band (71-76GHz) and V-band (57-64GHz) spectrum to help telcos deploy backhaul cost-effectively. The operator has recently conducted India's first trial of 5G in a live network.
"The government is addressing some of these issues [uniform right of way, low level of fiberization of basestations], and we hope DoT and TRAI will also address spectrum pricing. This is imperative to allow enough money for capex rollout by operators rather than use up everything in buying spectrum," sid Ravinder Takkar, managing director and CEO of Vodafone Idea.
He believes the issues relating to the high cost of the 5G spectrum are likely to be addressed by the DoT before the 5G spectrum auction is held later this year.
Similar sentiments were voiced by Reliance Jio's president, Matthew Oommen.
"The operators need to have at a minimum in the 3.5GHz, at least 100MHz per operator. For the millimeter wave, hopefully, 800MHz, or at least 400MHz, and for the sub-1GHz, at least two times 20MHz per carrier," he said.
The burden of high taxes and levies
Another issue highlighted by telcos time and again is the need to bring down the number of taxes and levies inflicted on them.
"We need to have reduced license fees from 3% to 1% for all TSPs, and also as an industry, we need to have the spectrum usage charge reduced by 3%, for all three telecom service providers," said Jio's Oommen.
"Different industry players will need to invest $100 billion to achieve the policy goals of the government. A financially healthy telecom sector is necessary to achieve this. High levels of taxes and levies need to come down," said Vodafone Idea's Takkar.
Developing India-specific 5G use cases
Apart from the high cost of spectrum, the industry's most significant 5G challenge is developing India-specific use cases.
"The reasons I am a bit sketchy about these applications [popular 5G use cases like remote surgery etc.] is that they still don't exist in their full measure … we need a dramatic proliferation of use cases around innovation to exploit this technology," said Vittal.
"While the prospects [5G use cases] are plenty, it is important to know which ones of these are relevant for India," sid Takkar.
Right to right of way
The speakers also mentioned the need to have a uniform right-of-way (RoW) rules across the country.
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In India, different states and sometimes even districts, have different RoW rules leading to unnecessary delays for the telcos to lay down fiber.
"We need to remove the brakes applied on RoW, and there have to be the right incentives offered for TSPs to invest in every state," said Jio's Oommen.