Bharti Airtel on Thursday emerged as the first telecom operator in the country to demonstrate its 5G readiness by orchestrating live 5G service over a commercial network in Hyderabad city.
Since 5G spectrum bands in 3.5 GHz is yet to be auctioned, what Bharti did was that it used spectrum sharing technologies and operated 5G technology using its existing spectrum bands like 1800/2100/2300 MHz and sub-GHz bands 800/900 MHz.
This means, if permitted by government, Bharti can operate 5G and 4G within the same spectrum block and can deploy 5G in a matter of months. This technology capability along with future spectrum allocations in 3.5 GHz will enable it to provide 5G services to customers.
Gopal Vittal, MD and CEO, Bharti Airtel (India and South Asia), said the network is fully ready and 5G can be switched on using the existing spectrum.
But as 5G requires big chunks of spectrum, it will wait for government to auction more airwaves, like in the 3.5 GHz band. Asked specifically, if the company can launch 5G without the 3.5 GHz band, which has been earmarked for 5G in the country, Vittal said, “yes we can” start 5G even without 3.5 GHz after getting approval from the department of telecommunications (DoT).
In the past, Reliance Jio has also said that it would roll out its 5G services in the second half of this year, but the company has not done any demonstration till now.
The 3.5 GHz band won’t be auctioned in the upcoming sale in March. This is the reason why telcos have sought clarity from DoT that if 5G can be launched on the existing spectrum or the new airwaves that they plan to buy in the upcoming auction, can they go ahead with launching such services.
Vittal said all the segments of Airtel’s network are 5G-ready and it can launch pan-India services in a couple of months once spectrum becomes available. “Delivering a good experience for 5G is a must and for that, you need more spectrum, especially in the mid-band. But that does not mean that 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz and 2300 MHz can’t be used,” Vittal said.
Randeep Sekhon, chief technology officer of Bharti Airtel, said that to start with 3.5 GHz should be utilised for 5G as large chunk of spectrum is required and later all other bands can be re-farmed and used for 5G.