In a key move that will pave the way for a conducive 5G ecosystem in India, DoT has recently issued guidelines for 5G trials across all available spectrum bands.

Besides telcos, Indian entities that are involved in R&D and manufacturing as well as academic institutions can get a licence, which can be renewed on a case-by-case basis. The trial licence will be available at a uniform fee of Rs 5,000. Almost 400 MHz of radio waves will be available for allocation. The usage validity may range from three months to two years, depending on the purpose of the trial.

While the notification allows all eligible companies to apply for a licence, the government is still divided on whether to allow Huawei to conduct 5G trials amid pressure from the US government. Although banning the Chinese player completely from trials is an option, industry analysts believe that taking the middle ground, which would mean limiting and regulating the use of Huawei equipment and/or implementing substantial testing and regulatory oversight, would be better.

Meanwhile, DoT has set stringent deadlines for itself to expedite the permitting process. DoT will respond to all applications within four to eight weeks of receiving them, failing which the applicant can approach DoT and seek a response. If DoT fails to respond within two weeks, the request would be deemed approved.

5G connectivity is expected to trigger a digital revolution in India, and allowing trials is a key step in this direction. For now, 5G trial guidelines have at least set the ball rolling for meeting the government’s end-2020 timeline for service roll-out.

However, much will also depend on the success of 5G auctions, planned for end-2019, which will pave the way for the commercialisation of 5G in the country. To ensure satisfactory participation by telcos, rationalising reserve prices and reviewing the auction methodology are the need of the hour. Moreover, the long-standing challenges relating to the country’s low fibre density and RoW issues must be addressed at the earliest.