3 things to know before you get excited

Indian telecom players are getting ready to announce an official rollout of 5G networks in the country, bringing faster data speeds for users and opening many new use cases. Airtel has already confirmed that it will begin its 5G rollout before the end of the month, while Reliance Jio is reportedly expected to make an announcement this Independence Day.

However, contrary to what most people believe, a 5G rollout by the telcos will not immediately result in a widespread change in how we use mobile data services and the internet at large. Like the initial rollout of 4G in India, expect a gradual increase in 5G services and adoption in the country. Until then, here are three things you need to know about the 5G rollout in India ahead of Jio and Airtel’s official announcements.

No wide coverage before 2023-24

While 5G rollouts will commence this month, they could very well be restricted to a handful of Tier-I regions like Metro-cities for now. This is because 5G testing had already been undergoing for months in these areas. According to reports, Airtel will begin its rollout with 5G hitting 1000 towns and cities across the country, while Airtel is expected to hit 5000 towns and cities in the initial rollout.

However, Tier-II and Tier-III areas may not see a widespread rollout of 5G for months, with full-scale coverage expected to take place by 2023 or 2024 in remote and isolated areas.

Heavy focus on Sub 6-GHz 5G

There are two kinds of 5G networks, mmWave and Sub-6Ghz. While mmWave 5G is powered by high frequency waves, sub-6Ghz is powered by medium and low frequency waves. This is important for two aspects – speed and range. The mmWave 5G is much faster (around 4-5Gbps), and when you see the advertised benefits of 5G on the internet, the data speeds you’re seeing are usually mmWave speeds. However, mmWave is also bad with range and isn’t great with penetrating obstacles either, making it less than ideal for wide scale networks.

Instead, Indian telcos are for now focussing on Sub-6GHz networks, which have much longer range, allowing a single tower to reach more areas and hence, more people. Sub-6Ghz 5G data speeds are much slower than mmWave 5G and are closer to 4G LTE data speeds, while still being faster than 4G (around 200Mbps). So, don’t expect a very significant difference in data speeds just yet.

Increased cost of plans

5G data plans will be more expensive than 4G plans, which already have been seeing price hikes in recent years. While no official prices are out, we can expect Indian telecom players to hike 5G plans for the new tech as well as to perhaps recover costs invested behind developing the 5G infrastructure.

In a recent report, Vodafone Idea’s managing director and CEO suggested that 5G plans will offer users with more data compared to 4G plans, but this will come at the expense of increased costs. ““Given the fact that a fair amount of money has been spent on the spectrum, we believe that 5G should be priced at a premium to 4G,” Vodafone Idea Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Ravinder Takkar said during an earnings call.

With the higher pricing, whether we see a mass switch to 5G networks could be determined by the difference in average speeds offered by 4G and 5G services.

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