2020 is now over and we enter 2021 with a lot of hopes. The entire world must be praying for the pandemic to end so that everyday life resumes. 2020 was a great year for the Indian telecom industry as the pandemic helped them increase the Average Revenue per User (ARPU). However, it will go down as one of the bad years where the companies didn't have much to innovate. For example, Reliance Jio announced many partnerships with major tech companies like Facebook, Google and so on, but there isn't a single outcome as a result because of the pandemic. Before India entered the lockdown in March 2019, we saw telcos like Airtel and Jio rolling out the VoWi-Fi service. Apart from that, there isn't any other major rollout from the brands to the general public. As India slowly comes out of lockdown, telecom operators would be hoping to bring innovations to the market. Here are the Telecom Trends to watch out in India this year.
Much-Awaited Spectrum Auction
Could you believe that the last spectrum auction happened back in 2016 in India? Well, yes. That's the reality. Even during the 2016 spectrum auction, the government managed to sell only 40% of the spectrum that was auctioned. Since then, incumbents Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea have been pushing the spectrum auction because of the poor financial situation.
The Union Cabinet recently approved DoT's request to hold spectrum auction before March 2021. The government is planning to auction 2,251.25 MHz of spectrum at a reserve price of Rs 3,92,332.70 crore. The frequency bands in the auction will be 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 2300 MHz and 2500 MHz. Reliance Jio is eagerly waiting for this auction to happen as it is required to renew its spectrum in most circles. Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea might take a little part in the auction.
Jio 5G Launch in H2 2021
At the India Mobile Congress 2020 virtual event, Reliance Jio Chairman and Managing Director, Mukesh Ambani, said the telco would launch 5G services in India in the second half of 2021. He further said the LTE-only operator would pioneer the 5G revolution in India. Reliance Jio also confirmed the development of in-house 5G hardware to reduce the reliability on third-party vendors. We are pretty sure Reliance Jio will be first on the line to launch 5G in India, but if the telco manages to bring it in the second half of 2020 itself, it would be exciting.
3G Network Phase-Out
As we already know, Reliance Jio is an LTE-only operator and Bharti Airtel has shut down its 3G services all across India. Vodafone Idea recently started 3G spectrum refarming and the telco will soon provide only 4G and 2G services going forward similar to Bharti Airtel. Lastly, we have BSNL which is also expected to launch 4G services by phasing out 2G and 3G services by the second half of 2021. If these happen, India will no longer have access to 3G technology. Telcos will likely retain 2G services because of the massive feature phone user base who rely on 2G network for the most part.
BSNL 4G Launch
As far as I know, BSNL 4G launch has been included in almost all of our Indian Telecom Trends articles over the last four years. The craze for BSNL 4G is skyrocketing with every passing day, but the government isn't allowing the telco to launch 4G services. Yes, the government is to be blamed here. BSNL issued a 4G tender earlier this year in March only to scrap a few months later. The DoT-appointed technology committee suggested the telco to use the locally-made gear for launching 4G services. BSNL replied saying a 4G tender from local vendors is almost 90% pricier than that of global telecom gear vendors.
The DoT is now in the process of approaching the Prime Minister Office (PMO) on the BSNL 4G tender matter. Once the PMO replies, we will see DoT drafting a tender for BSNL 4G. So yes, we are expecting BSNL to rollout 4G services at least this year.
Public WANI Project Rollout
Earlier this month, the Indian government has approved the PM Wi-Fi Access Network Interface (PM-WANI) project as part of which the government will allow vendors to set up Wi-Fi hotspots across the country in a massive number. With Project WANI, the government is aiming at providing broadband speeds with public Wi-Fis. In the past, we have seen the public Wi-Fi model failing miserably, but the fact that the government itself is pioneering the service is interesting. A recent report said the government is looking to install at least two million public Wi-Fi hotspots by 2021-end.
New Identity Verification Tech by Telcos
As we have reported recently, Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea are piloting a new mobile number identity verification as a replacement for OTP. The technology which is already available from companies like Route Mobile will remove the hassle for the users to authenticate via OTP. Instead, it will use a secure log-in system that matches the user with their mobile number. The technology is subject to regulatory approvals after which it will be launched to the public. To know more about this upcoming service, head over to this article.