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Airtel, Jio, Vodafone Idea seek time for 5G trial plans

“There is a lot of documentation and details required to be submitted to DoT, which is not possible by January 10,” said a senior executive, who did not wish to be identified. The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) will write to DoT this week, said the executive.

, ET Bureau|
Last Updated: Jan 09, 2020, 08.46 AM IST
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NEW DELHI: Field trials for 5G may be delayed further in India as private telecom operators Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio Infocomm are preparing to write to the telecom department to seek more time beyond the January 10 deadline to submit their respective proposals.

“There is a lot of documentation and details required to be submitted to the telecom department, which is not possible by January 10,” said a senior executive, who did not wish to be identified.

The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) will write a letter to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) this week, said the executive.

Rajan Mathews, director general of COAI, which represents all private telcos, confirmed the development but said that a time frame for the extension to be sought from DoT had not been finalised yet.

“There are three scenarios – rural, semi-urban and urban areas – for which information and a proper plan needs to be submitted including information from each gear vendor and telecom operator. This information gathering will take time, which is why we are seeking an extension,” said Mathews.

The telecom department will allocate the trial spectrum to its licensees, telecom service providers, which can then choose to partner with vendors such as Nokia, Huawei, Ericsson and Samsung.

India’s 5G trials were first scheduled to take place early last year but got stuck on modalities such as pricing and trial tenure. On taking over as the telecom minister in June 2019, Ravi Shankar Prasad had said that his priority would be to start trials within 100 days, a deadline that also passed. Recently, telecom secretary Anshu Prakash said trials would be held in January 2020.

In June 2019, the DoT had approved a one-year 5G trial period and a one-time fee of Rs 5,000 for entities seeking experimental spectrum to conduct trials.

However, telcos sought clarity on Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE's participation in these trials.

The government last month decided to allow all network equipment makers, including Huawei and ZTE, to participate in 5G trials. The move was significant since the US has been pressuring its allies and friendly countries, including India, to bar Huawei from 5G deployments, flagging security concerns and citing the company’s alleged proximity to the Chinese government.

A day later, at a meeting on December 31, the DoT told telecom operators to apply afresh within the next 10 days for 5G spectrum trials and said that airwaves would be allotted upon approval of their applications.

Since then, Huawei, Nokia, ZTE and Ericsson have again initiated discussions with all telecom operators, including state-run BSNL, for joint proposals for 5G field trials.

“Now clarity has come on Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE. There are fresh discussions taking place on trials. Every vendor is talking to every telco,” said a second person aware of the matter.

Vodafone Idea had previously applied to partner with Ericsson and Huawei for 5G trials while Bharti Airtel had sought permission to conduct trials with Nokia, Huawei and Ericsson. ZTE had submitted a proposal to conduct trails with BSNL.

Reliance Jio Infocomm had applied for a pilot initiative with Samsung.

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