While 5G has been commercialized in many parts of the world, it’s still a distant dream in countries like India. The first concrete step in bringing 5G closer to reality in India came in June when the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) finally allocated the spectrum to Indian carriers for conducting 5G trials. The DoT allocated the spectrum in 700MHz, 3.3-3.6GHz, and 26GHz bands to Bharati Airtel, Reliance Jio, Vodafone/Idea, and MTNL. Carriers can use the allocated spectrum for doing 5G trials for six months, at the end of which the 5G spectrum auction will kick off. With the 5G trials currently underway and commercial deployment still in the future, Bharati Airtel has asked the Department of Telecom to set guidelines requiring 5G phones launched and sold in India to support all existing 5G bands.
According to a report from Financial Express, Airtel wants manufacturers to not just focus on supporting popular 5G bands, such as n78 and n41, but all existing bands that can potentially be used and repurposed for 5G. The company also specifically mentioned that phones must support Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS), a technology used by carriers to operate both 4G LTE and 5G NR simultaneously on the same network band. Lastly, Airtel said that dual SIM phones should allow 4G/5G support on both slots. If you’re wondering why Airtel felt the need to reach out to the DoT, here’s some context. Several of the latest 5G phones launched in India have a limited number of 5G bands. For example, the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro only support n78 and n41 bands. Similarly, Xiaomi’s Mi 11X series only supports n77 and n78 bands.
Whether the number of 5G bands really matters remains one of the hotly debated topics in the Indian tech circle. While there’s no clear-cut answer, it would seem that support for more 5G bands might increase your chances for a more reliable 5G experience when it finally becomes available. This is because, alongside the 3500MHz (n78) and 2500MHz (n41) spectrum, carriers in India will likely use the existing 4G and 3G spectrum for 5G. For example, when Airtel became the first carrier to demonstrate its 5G capabilities on a live network earlier in January, it utilized the existing spectrum in 1800MHz/2100MHz/2300MHz bands and low bands such as 800MHz and 900MHz. DoT, for its part, has also made it clear that carriers are free to use the existing 4G spectrum for 5G trials, which will likely stay when 5G commercially rolls out.
At the same time, having limited band support doesn’t mean you’ll miss out on the 5G experience altogether. 5G rollout is a collaborative effort involving not just carriers but also equipment makers, smartphone OEMs, chipset makers, and more. Smartphone companies work closely with carriers and regulators of each country before deciding and finalizing on band support. So even if a phone only supports a handful of bands, the smartphone maker had input from carriers and stakeholders before making that choice.
5G spectrum auction in India has reportedly been pushed to 2022, so we’ll have to wait and see how India’s entire 5G situation turns out.