Faced with atypically slow 4G cellular networks, India has taken its first step towards higher-speed 5G service, as leading Indian carrier Bharti Airtel and China’s Huawei have successfully completed India’s first 5G network trial. Last week, India committed to finalizing its 5G roadmap by this June and reportedly plans widespread 5G deployments in 2020.
Conducted in the city of Manesar near Delhi, the Bharti Airtel-Huawei 5G test achieved 3Gbps speeds and approximately 1 millisecond latency on the 3.5GHz band, which is said to be “the highest measured throughput for a mobile network in 3.5 GHz band with 100 MHz bandwidth.” Speeds of nearly 5Gbps have been achieved in 5G tests using other radio frequencies, but the cellular industry has focused on delivering performance of around 1Gbps per customer.
India’s moves towards 5G are significant because of the country’s huge population and unusually sluggish 4G networks. Bharti Airtel alone services over 290 million mobile customers, and even a young rival, Jio, has over 100 million customers. However, mobile industry analytics firm OpenSignal notes that India only experienced an “explosion” in 4G use last year, thanks largely to a free calling/cheap data price war sparked by Jio.
OpenSignal’s February 2018 global LTE report ranked India dead last in 4G speeds, despite great availability of 4G signals around the country. Indian customers could expect average 4G speed of only 6.07Mbps — 10Mbps lower than the global average, and one-seventh as fast as leading 4G country Singapore. Viewed in perspective, Indian customers in 2018 have mobile internet speeds akin to what U.S. customers experienced during the 2010-2011 transition from 3G to 4G networks.
According to The Economic Times, Indian carriers previously urged the government to “go slow” on auctioning 5G spectrum, as Jio’s price war led to massive debts. But Bharti Airtel is pushing forward with the new technology.
“The promise of 5G is endless,” said Bharti Airtel network director Abhay Savargaonkar. “It will be a game changer, and it will change the way we live, work, and engage. We look forward to working closely with our partners for developing a robust 5G ecosystem in India.”