5G is ready to roll out, but smart phone softwares are not
It is like the proverbial putting the cart before the horse. Not surprisingly top government officials are a worried lot. There has been a lot of hype over the launch of 5G in India and Bharti Airtel has taken the lead. But then the launch of 5G is not about Bharti Airtel or Reliance Jio alone. There is the need for hardware to be 5G enabled. There is also the need for the phone companies to make changes to their operating system and download the necessary packets to ensure that 5G works to perfection. That is where the government, telecom services providers, software teams and hardware teams are not in sync.
Obviously, there has been a sense of urgency that is building up in the top echelons of the government. In the next few days, the top officials from the Department of Telecom (DOT) and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) are planning to meet more than 30 executives from across the telcos as well as the hardware and the software providers. The officials, with a view to facilitating smooth launch of 5G in India will meet with telecom services providers Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea. They will also meet up smartphone manufacturers like Apple, Samsung, Oppo and Vivo for the same.
It is said that in most project implementation programs, there is many a slip between the cup and the lip. That means; a lot of last minute and last mile hiccups can derail or, at least, delay the launch of 5G in India. To make this process smoother, the government is actively seeking the involvement of smartphone manufacturers to release their firmware upgrades required for 5G devices to latch on to such networks. While the telecom service providers have done their part, handset manufacturers must enable telecom service providers to release software FOTA upgrades for all 5G handsets. That is when it can go live.
This last mile smoothening of the process assumes importance considering that the government and the telecom service providers have announced the launch of 5G in India. While Bharti has announced the launch of 5G and Reliance Jio plans to launch its service in Diwali. Both Jio and Bharti Airtel will complete their 5G rollout between December 2023 and March 2024. For that the bells and whistles have to be ironed and that is why the government is getting involved. As of now, smartphone users owning 5G-ready handsets are unable to use 5G services, even in the top metros like Mumbai and Delhi.
For the successful use of 5G, the hardware and the software has to be in place. The good news is that a good chunk of India mobile phone users are already 5G ready in terms of hardware. A recent survey by Ookla had pointed that 51% of their sample respondents already had smartphones supporting 5G. According to Ookla, among the existing phones in the market, the Apple iPhones are the most 5G capable. However, Indian smart phone market is dominated by Samsung with market share of 31%, Xiaomi with a market share of 23% with Real Me and Vivo following. Apple penetration is much lower, largely due to costs.
To the credit of the DOT and the MEITY, they have addressed one of the most important issue of last mile hiccups in any launch. This is quite common in mega projects. Teams from the utility service provider, software write and the hardware manufacturer operate like discrete silos. That is not very conducive to a mega project like the all-India 5G launch. In a project of this magnitude and complexity, it is the detailing and the micro issues that normally hold up the launch. Hopefully, proactiveness shown by policymakers should help.
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