A year on, close the 5Generation gap

A year since 5G was launched, India has over 110 million 5G users. But that’s still a drop in the ocean, given the country’s 1.2 billion-strong data-guzzling mobile user base. This only underlines the huge opportunity to upgrade customers to the next-gen fast broadband technology. But wider adoption and monetisation remain challenges. This, even as telcos are focusing on mopping up subscribers and, hence, not charging anything extra for 5G services, to support which they had paid top dollar to buy spectrum from GoI. The top two, Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel, are rapidly expanding their 5G networks to cover the entire country in a few months from now. Vodafone Idea is yet to get into the act, having failed to set a firm launch date, shackled by its long-pending fundraise.

Consumer buzz continues to rise as 5G is billed to transcend smartphones and connect anything – from cars, homes, machines to household gadgets with an internet connection at speeds almost 100 times quicker than 4G. Post- 5G rollouts, India’s global ranking on mobile download speeds, too, looks a lot cooler at 47 from its 119th just over a year ago, according to speed-test app Ookla. But paucity of affordable 5G phones and a yet-to-mature devices ecosystem have hindered adoption levels. The dismal state of fibre infrastructure and absence of mass consumer- and enterprise-level 5G use cases haven’t helped. Jio and Airtel are offering 5G mobile broadband at 4G rates. This is since headline tariff hikes, perceived as risky business in a price-sensitive turf, are virtually ruled out till after the general elections.

A glimmer at the end of the tunnel is the new, 5G-based fixed wireless access (FWA) services. 5G monetisation could well be underway if FWA catches on and drives broadband adoption among the 85 million-odd pay-TV homes that still don’t have internet access. Such a scenario could, by some estimates, unlock a potential $7-10 billion revenue opportunity in the near-to-mid-term future. More so since India has 250-300 million households of which only 30 million have fixed broadband connections.


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