It will take India at least another year to roll out the next generation of high-speed mobile internet, known as 5G, a senior executive at Bharti Enterprises told CNBC.
Bharti Enterprises is the parent company of major Indian telecommunication operator, Bharti Airtel.
Even though some countries have already rolled out 5G networks, the technology is still at a nascent stage where various use cases are still being developed, Akhil Gupta, vice chairman of Bharti Enterprises, told CNBC’s “Street Signs” on Wednesday.
For India, the 5G roll out “should be 12 to 18 months away, if not more,” he said, adding that, in order to stay on top of the technology’s development around the world, the country should carry out various tests and trials.
“The Indian government has taken a decision to give the spectrum on trial basis. As operators, we’re preparing ourselves so that we can roll out as quickly as possible once there is a use case for India,” Gupta said.
India is expected to hold trials for installing a next-generation 5G cellular network in the coming months.
But the Indian government’s proposed base price of 4.92 billion rupees ($71 million) for the auction of 5G spectrum, due this year, is seen to be high, Reuters reported. Major Indian telecommunication companies, including Bharti Airtel, Reliance Industries and Vodafone Idea, are expected to participate in the auction and the entire process could set them back at least more than a billion dollars, the news wire added.
“It’s certainly overpriced,” Gupta said, adding that the government’s objective is not to maximize revenue, but to spread connectivity across the country. “I think that must be the fundamental aim of 5G. Therefore, keeping a high auction price, a spectrum price, to my mind doesn’t serve the purpose.”
Still, Gupta said, the price will mostly be determined by demand and supply and the industry’s ability to invest. He added that the government should try and ensure that, as 5G technologies are being developed in India, “more money is allocated toward network rollout than for spectrum.”
He also explained that, at this point, it is important for India to invest more into the current generation of high-speed mobile networks known as 4G because it will help the country prepare better for 5G.
When asked about India’s stand on embattled Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, Gupta said he is sure the government and the country’s Department of Telecommunications are looking into all aspects of the matter, including potential security concerns.
Huawei is considered to be one of the leading names in the race to develop 5G. The company is, however, facing mounting fears that its technology could enable Chinese espionage through those high-speed mobile networks. Countries like the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Japan have restricted the Huawei’s participation in 5G development within their borders.
Huawei has repeatedly denied that its products represent any risk.
India has yet to take a stand on the matter. In July, the Nikkei business daily reported that Indian officials remain reluctant about letting Huawei participate in the country’s 5G development despite the Chinese company’s offer to sign a pledge guaranteeing its equipment will not contain any means to bypass normal security to gain access to a network.
But Beijing has apparently told India not to block Huawei from doing business in the country, warning New Delhi there could be consequences for Indian firms operating in China, Reuters reported this week.
“I think it’s a serious issue, which has been raised about security,” Gupta said. “I am sure the government of India and (Department of Telecommunications) are looking into all aspects. I guess we should give them ample time.”
He added that it is unlikely anything “untoward or hasty” will be done given the “solid India-China relations.”
“We’re confident that the government will come out with a very sound and a very fair decision,” he said, adding that Huawei, which is a supplier to Bharti Enterprises, has proved itself to be “kind of leading in terms of evolution of new technologies with their very robust road maps.”