The department of telecom is in the final stage of reviewing applications for 5G trials and is likely to give its approval by next week. CNBC TV18 learnt that Jio, Bharti Airtel, VIL and BSNL may all get their clearance next week. The move is important as post the approval, the government can work on security clearances and thereafter begin the 5G trials, which have been delayed by almost a year now.
"We are aiming to finish the final approvals of all the applications submitted by the service providers by next week. We will then begin assessing security clearance for each player and aims to provide security clearance for the 5G trials by December 2020;" said a DOT official who did not wish to be named.
This means that 5G trails will begin only by December 2020 or January 2021. Originally, the telecom department was aiming to begin trials by March 2020 and conduct the auctions post that. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic throwing most plans off balance, India has had to wait much longer than anticipated to welcome 5G.
Will 5G auctions get delayed to FY21?
"Typically the security clearance takes a few weeks but trials may take anywhere between 90 to 180 days. This will mean that the auctions will take longer;" explains a source.
But its not just delay in the trials, the pricing and quantum of spectrum planned has also been a subject of contention and players like Bharti Airtel ands VIL have clearly indicated that it will be tough to bid at the prices that have been outlined so far.
"We have been giving our representations to the government. We do believe the DOT is trying to ensure that the quantum of spectrum is increased but cost is still a point of debate;" said a senior executive from one of the Telecom operators.
The big conundrum: Whether to include Chinese vendors or not?
Telecom operators had originally submitted application for 5G trials in late 2019. Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea, Jio, BSNL and MTNl had all submitted applications including Chinese vendors. The two Chinese vendors that were listed by almost all telecom operators included ZTE and Huawei. However with geopolitical tensions leaving undercurrents in the business environments, the telecom operators submitted fresh applications.
Bharti Airtel submitted its application with Nokia and Ericsson; VIL with US based Mavenir, Nokia and Ericsson, BSNL submitted its application with C-DOT and Jio applied with Samsung, Nokia and Ericsson. Jio also filed application to test 5G with its own gear.
"No formal notification was given to us by the department but there were indications of increased scrutiny which led to most of the operators filing for fresh applications;" said a senior executive from one of the telecom service providers.
Disclosure: RIL, the promoter of Reliance Jio, also controls Network18, the parent company of CNBCTV18.com.