By Soumeet Sarkar
India’s two largest telecom operators, struggling amid a bruising tariff war, have signalled that they are not willing to invest in the high-speed fifth-generation networks even as the government eyes a rollout by 2022.
India does not need a 5G network at this juncture, Balesh Sharma, chief executive officer of Vodafone Idea Ltd., said in a press meet today. “We will look to invest in 5G only when there is an appropriate ecosystem and improvement in financial health.”
Billionaire Sunil Mittal-owned Bharti Airtel Ltd., now No. 2, said in a Nov. 16 analyst meet that the company doesn’t have the appetite to buy 5G spectrum and will evaluate only when the ecosystem is supportive, according to notes by multiple brokerages.
South Korea, the U.S., China and Japan have started testing or offering 5G services—which can reach data speeds of 10 gigabits per second, about 100 times faster than 4G. India’s Telecom Secretary had told Bloomberg earlier that the country would target a rollout by 2022 and some early-stage projects may start as early as 2020. In the auctions scheduled next year, bandwidth supporting 5G airwaves will be on offer.
But the two largest carriers are bleeding after Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd. upended the world’s second largest telecom industry with cut-rate plans. Profits plunged and debt jumped, driving consolidation. Smaller players were forced out of business while Vodafone India Ltd. and Idea Cellular Ltd. merged.
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