Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members


About a decade back the privileged Indians who had access to internet didn’t complain seeing blinking dots of the buffering sign. Live online streaming of content was easily skipped for downloads that took hours to complete. Cut to the pandemic-hit 2020, when even the senior citizens of the country became savvy – ordering groceries on their smart phone and watching shows on their favorite OTT platform.

The shifts that unfolded in the digital space, in the past few years have been mammoth. And with acceleration of digital adoption due to the Covid-19 push has made 5G rollout critical for catalyzing growth of the Indian economy. However, since most major telecom service providers were engaged in a legal battle for the 4G spectrum, 5G was a distant thought for the country.

The scenario brightened up in December 2020, when Reliance Industries’ chairman, Mukesh Ambani announced Jio’s plans to rollout 5G services by the second half of 2021. Ambani also revealed that the rollout would be powered by network, technology components and hardware that has been indigenously developed.

The speed and advantages offered by 5G can help Indian businesses tremendously in fueling the economic growth faster. Since most companies are already planning a digital transformation, accommodating the shifts required for switching to 5G network will be easier to implement. Indeed, 5G will be very helpful in embracing the principles of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and thereby boost productivity phenomenally.

Despite acknowledging the positive vibes, it is essential to point out that India is quite lagging in the global 5G race. While India is still pondering 5G trials, many countries of the world are much ahead in deploying 5G. According to a report published by Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA), currently there are 135 5G services available in America, Africa, Europe Middle East and Asia Pacific. The report further revealed that as of mid-December 2020, about 412 operators spread across 131 countries were investing in 5G.

China is leading the global 5G race and has increased its 5G base station numbers from 0.1 million in 2019 to nearly 0.7 million in November 2020. In South Korea, limited 5G commercial services were rolled out in December 2018 and in June 2019, the country accounted for 77% of global 5G users.

By all accounts, even if Jio succeeds in rolling out 5G services in 2021 as per its promise, India will be late by about 2 years. But that is not necessarily bad. Firstly, India has historically been rather slow in introducing emerging telecom technologies. 2G was launched in India about a decade after its launch in developed countries, while 3G introduction was late by eight years and 4G debuted 5 years later. In comparison, 5G launch in India is lagging by just two years, which is definitely indicative of progress.

The second reason that gives India an added advantage by being late in the 5G race is that, the domestic players in the space can learn from other countries’ experiences. Launching 5G requires extensive development of new technology components, hardware, etc. which can be very challenging. By being late by just two years, India can leverage the learnings from others’ follies and get things right in the first go.

Moreover, if companies can speed up 5G adoption, the time that has been lost can be easily made up for. Although there is some dependency on China for developing the required 5G equipment, overall the scenario is pretty positive for the country. Further, since India’s economic recovery is converging with 5G rollout, it is expected to give a great boost to Indian businesses.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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