NEW DELHI: Any 5G tariff hike in India will depend on the number of 5G subscribers, and varying sentiments of users towards fifth-generation services are expected to create complexities with respect to pricing and eventual investments, Counterpoint Research has said, adding that 5G has seen a quicker roll out and adoption than previous technologies in the country but also quicker than in other emerging markets.
Reliance Jio earlier in mid-March launched two new individual and family postpaid plans priced from Rs 299 and Rs 399, respectively, in a bid to acquire higher-paying users. These new plans are eligible for a 5G upgrade through the Jio Welcome Offer, under which the telco offers its True 5G service to users who applies for it.
Bharti Airtel followed with an introductory offer to provide unlimited 5G data to all postpaid and prepaid users who are using a data plan of Rs 239 or higher.
“The operators are also struggling with developing more 5G use cases except for eMBB (enhanced mobile broadband) and FWA (fixed wireless access), which are considered the most convenient, but not killer, use cases,” said the research firm in a report.
Jio and Airtel have launched 5G services in over 700 cities to date. In December 2022, the cumulative number of 5G BTSs that had been deployed was approximately 22,000, with the weekly average being 2,500 5G BTSs. But by March 2023, Jio and Airtel together had successfully deployed 116,204 5G BTSs throughout the country, as per the report.
Jio has further claimed that about 90% of its deployed 5G BTSs are fiberised, while courtesy of the NSA mode, Airtel can deploy 5G BTSs alongside 4G equipment, reducing the time required to set up the network, said Counterpoint.
Sunil Mittal-led Airtel has already claimed that it crossed the 10–million unique 5G subscribers mark.
“Despite Jio and Airtel having different strategies for 5G deployment, both will be looking forward to bridging the digital divide through 5G FWA and helping industries digitally transform through 5G private networks,” said Counterpoint.
The research firm said that Vodafone Idea and state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) will also join Jio and Airtel in rolling out 5G by 2024. To be noted, BSNL is expected to start providing its much-awaited 4G services soon.
“As subscribers continue to purchase 5G smartphones and telcos continue to provide 5G services at low to no premium, the number of users migrating to 5G will motivate operators to expand coverage at a rapid pace,” it said.
According to the research firm’s data, 5G became the most sought-after smartphone features in 2022, with 5G smartphones capturing a 32% market share in 2022. It estimates that there are nearly 85 million 5G smartphone users in India.
The growth of 5G smartphones, as per Counterpoint, is due to the availability of affordable handsets, such as the Lava Blaze 5G which is priced at ~Rs 10,000 ($121).
“Counterpoint expects 5G smartphone shipments to exceed 4G smartphone shipments by the end of 2023. As the market grows, we might also see 5G smartphones in the sub-INR 10,000 price band,” it said.
Xiaomi India president Muralikrishnan B, at a recent industry event organised by ETTelecom, had said that the “sweet spot” of affordability of 5G smartphones will be the Rs 10,000-Rs 15,000 price band, while suggesting that it is not possible for brands at present to launch 5G smartphones below Rs 10,000 without compromising on certain aspects.
Counterpoint, on the devices front, noted in its report that 5G smartphones still do not form a major part of the total smartphone installed base in India while adding that telecom operators will require more support from equipment manufacturers to help deploy affordable services. It said that both operators (Jio and Airtel) are looking to complement their FWA services with affordable high-performing 5G consumer premises equipment (CPEs).
“We are working with chip makers, software developers and hardware manufacturers to make FWA devices in India, which will be affordable. We believe that if these devices are priced too high, then it (the FWA use case) will be a non-starter in India,” Airtel CTO Randeep Sekhon said during the industry event by ETTelecom.
Driven in part by accelerated FWA plans in India, and expected growth in other emerging markets, FWA is forecast to grow at 19% year-on-year through 2022-28, and top 300 million connections by the end of 2028, as per Swedish telecom gear maker Ericsson.
Ericsson has projected that 5G subscriptions in India will touch 690 million by the end of 2028, and 5G will represent around 53% of mobile subscriptions at the end of 2028. 4G subscriptions are expected to peak in 2024 at around 930 million and will subsequently decline to an estimated 570 million by the year 2028.