Bharti Airtel bats for 5G phones under Rs 21k to drive broadband usage

NEW DELHI: Bharti Airtel said the first wave of 5G smartphones in India must not be priced above $300 (about Rs 21,300) to drive mass consumption of the ultra-fast wireless broadband service, even as experts predicted that the devices would gain wide acceptance within two years.

“5G smartphones are now priced around $1,000 (Rs 71,000) globally, which needs to drop to a maximum $300 for unlocking the next wave of mass data consumption in India,” Bharti Airtel’s chief technology officer Randeep Sekhon told ET.

For acceptance of 5G services in India, he said, compatible phones must be affordable, although the advent of such smart devices at about $300 is still some time away.

Sekhon said a major reason behind the strong appetite for 4G phones in India is their affordable price of around $100 (Rs 7,100).

Handset industry analysts, however, said that 5G smartphones are likely to make their way faster into India compared to any previous generation of mobile broadband technology, owing to growing maturity of the devices ecosystem globally, and predicted mass availability of 5G devices as early as 2021.

Market research firm Counterpoint estimates global 5G smartphone shipments will grow a whopping 255% by 2021, nearly reaching 110 million units.

Tarun Pathak, associate director at Counterpoint, said he foresaw appetite for 5G devices and services in India’s rapidly emerging mid-to-high-end customer segment, saying the local telecom market might not see a situation where 5G services cater to the premium segment alone.

“There is a possibility of 5G phones (adoption) in the mid to high-end segment, depending on which original equipment makers bring them first,” said Pathak. By 2021, he said, handset OEMs could unveil 5G devices, catering to the upper-mid to high-end customer segments.

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The government has underlined plans to conduct the next airwaves sale in 2019 itself, which will mark the debut of 5G spectrum. It has issued guidelines for 5G trials across all available spectrum bands, without restricting any company from applying for a licence to participate provided it is registered in India.

Sekhon said the company is looking forward to the 5G field trials where it would radiate signals and test 5G use cases such as enhanced mobile broadband on phones and fixed wireless at home. Airwaves in the sub-6 GHz or 3.5 GHz are ideal for 5G, he said, adding that the government should also take steps allocate millimetre wave spectrum, typically, in the 28 GHz band for 5G.



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