Ahead of sector regulator Trai's recommendations on spectrum auctions, telecom operator Bharti Airtel's Chief Technology Officer Randeep Sekhon has made an emphatic appeal for ''affordable'' pricing of 5G radiowaves.
Sekhon told PTI that the 5G will have a mass appeal, and not be confined to a niche or premium segment, as more cheaper devices become available in a market prepping for the next generation of services.
While 5G will open up immersive entertainment, industrial use cases, unlock new avenues in education and other areas, its biggest upside will be super-fast mobile connectivity.
''Spectrum pricing will play a very important role. If operators are made to buy a very expensive spectrum, naturally their cash flows will be limited, they will have to pay. But, if it is very reasonable, then it is very possible that the operator will bring the same money on increasing footprint faster,'' Sekhon said.
Amid wide anticipation that Trai will finalise its views on 5G auction modalities and spectrum pricing any day now, Sekhon urged the regulator to ''make it affordable''.
''Some bands have been going unsold for multiple auctions because they are so expensive. For every frequency, we buy, it doesn't mean I can go and light it up tomorrow. I will have to put radio, especially for 5G. So, there will be a capex on both sides,'' Sekhon explained.
He, however, did not comment on what pricing will be seen as viable or affordable.
The fifth-generation services won't end up being a premium product but will appeal to the mass market, and device makers will, in fact, rush to line up phone models closer to date as 5G networks get ready.
''Today 5G phone starts from Rs 15,000, and there are so many 5G phones in our network. This is when there is no 5G network. No one is bringing in those models now because everyone will go for it when 5G network is available,'' he said.
The broader range of low-cost 5G phones has not come into the market yet, since 5G networks are yet to go live. ''And we know that phone models change every 5-6 months. So, I would imagine that the moment auctions gets announced, the dates get announced...you will see a rush to launch devices,'' he said.
Once new services come up, 5G proliferation will gain full speed, and so would the device ecosystem, pushing overall costs down.
''The coverage will be available to all places where data is getting consumed. So, my view is soon 5G phones will be in the same range as 4G. It is at about Rs 15,000 now...maybe a year later (it will come to) about Rs 5,000-9,000 levels, assuming chip prices come back,'' Sekhon said.
Faster speeds, powered by 5G, will spur new possibilities in India, which is the world's second-largest telecommunications market.
''Amid COVID-19, people moved to the remote area, but they could not connect education use case smoothly. 5G allows you to do that. The aspect of faster mobile connectivity is underplayed...5G will enable new possibilities in areas like education, industrial use case, entertainment, cloud gaming, and others,'' he said.
The Indian market is gearing up for the rollout of 5G services, that will usher in ultra high-speeds and spawn new-age services and business models. Telecom regulator's recommendations on spectrum pricing and other modalities are expected very soon.
The spectrum auctions are slated to be conducted in 2022 to facilitate the rollout of 5G mobile services within 2022-23 by private telecom providers. Telecom service providers are conducting 5G trials in Delhi, Mumbai, Jamnagar, Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Lucknow, Gurugram, Gandhinagar, Chandigarh, Pune and Varanasi, including urban, semi-urban and rural areas.
Bharti Airtel recently showcased the possibilities of the 5G era, as it harnessed immersive video technology over the next-generation network, to recreate the in-stadia experience of Kapil Dev's legendary 175 run innings from the 1983 cricket World Cup.
Airtel has said it is fully prepared for 5G in the emerging digital world and is building a robust pipeline of innovative use cases for India.