By Mansi Taneja
With the fifth-generation (5G) trials underway to develop India-specific user cases, the low level of fiber penetration could spoil the party for the next generation technology in India.
Two of India’s largest telecom operators – Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel – have started with their much-awaited and delayed 5G trials, following the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) allocation of trial spectrum in the 700-megahertz (MHz), 3.2-3.6-gigahertz (GHz), and 24.25-28.5-GHz bands last month.
India though is already behind major economies such as the United States, Japan, Turkey and China in the rollout of 5G where commercial services have already been introduced. As of April, 2021, 130 countries had already invested in 5G, of which around 65-70 countries have already launched 5G in at least one frequency bands.
Foremost among reasons for India lagging behind is the ecosystem’s non-readiness in terms of adequate infrastructure — towers, fiber and spectrum, say experts.
Crisil Research estimates a total industry wide capex of up to Rs2-2.5 trillion(US$33.6billion) on fiber over a 10 year capex cycle, with 70 per cent front loaded in the first five years which can go up as new and disruptive use-cases emerge in 5G.
5G & fiberisation of towers
Currently, around 33 er cent of telecom towers are connected with fiber in India which needs to reach at least 70 per cent to fully utilise the potential which 5G services could offer.
Against a target of 7.5 million kms of fiber required to be deployed, only 2.68 million kms have been deployed to date. India’s fiber deployment (in kms) to population ratio stands at just 0.09 per cent compared to other countries including the US and Japan where it is 1.7 per cent each and China with 0.87 per cent.
Low fiberisation: Making India’s 5G road bumpy”To make 5G a success story in India, it is essential to invest on network densification heavily through provisioning of fiber, small cells and mobile towers. National Broadband Mission, which was launched in December 2019, envisages 70 per cent fiberisation within 5 years’ time, by 2024. And according to an E& Y report in 2019, the capex requirement will be around Rs 45,000 crore to reach 70 per cent tower fiberisation by 2024,” director-general at Tower and Infrastructure Providers Association (TAIPA) TR Dua told ETTelecom.
President, Broadband India Forum TV Ramachandran said an increase in fiber deployment is of paramount importance in the times to come. “There is a huge opportunity ahead of us if we have to achieve the benchmarks or get anywhere near the levels of the other digitally advanced economies in the world.”