Why India’s 5G auction will probably happen in 2020?  

The delay in commercial availability of 5G chipsets and smartphones coupled with huge debt by mobile operators might delay India’s 5G auction  
 
In CES 2019, Qualcomm announced Snapdragon 855 Mobile Platform, the first commercial 5G mobile platform designed to enable the original wave of commercial 5G mobile devices starting early 2019 but no month has been mentioned. It is expected that we might see few OEMs using Qualcomm 855 Mobile Platform chipset launching their first version of 5G smartphones in the first half of 2019 but according to experts majority of the OEMs will launch 5G smartphones in the second half of 2019.
 
“We believe that virtually all 5G mobile devices launched in 2019 will be built on Qualcomm Technologies’ 5G solutions,” said Cristiano Amon, president, Qualcomm. 
 
“5G will pave the way for next-generation immersive experiences, including near-instant access to cloud services, multiplayer VR gaming, shopping with AR, and real-time video collaboration. The world is ready for the 5G smartphone premium experience and Qualcomm Technologies, along with our OEM, operator and infrastructure partners, will be first delivering those experiences in 2019,” added Amon.
 
Verizon and Samsung have announced their plan to bring one of the first commercial 5G smartphones to market in the first half of 2019. The companies will unveil a proof of concept, powered by the upcoming flagship Qualcomm Snapdragon Mobile Platform with the Snapdragon X50 5G NR modem and antenna modules with integrated RF transceiver, RF front-end and antenna elements. This is just a proof of concept and not commercial deployment.
 
MediaTek’s has unveiled the first 5G chipset Helio M70, a multi-mode integrated baseband chipsets with key 5G technologies including standalone (SA) and non-standalone (NSA) network architectures for faster connectivity, lower latency and improved reference design deliver a high-speed network experience for the 5G era. The chipset is expected to shipped in the second half of 2019. It will take another 3-4 months for the OEMs to come up with right 5G devices using MediaTek chipset.  
 
The commercial availability of large scale 5G smartphone/devices based on Qualcomm and MediaTek chipsets in the second half of 2019 might delay 5G auction as Indian operators are of the opinion that 5G auction should happen only when the complete ecosystem is in place. And for the complete ecosystem to be in place one needs to have chipsets not only for smartphones but also for different verticals like automotive, healthcare, agriculture and others so that Indian operators can conduct 5G trials for different use cases and see what is feasible in terms of the different business models with respect to India.    
 
Before 5G auction, 5G trials are also planned for four states i.e. Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu which is yet to kickstart. These trials will depend on the availability of chipsets to test different use cases in different regions of India. Once the results are out for 5G trials, the government can plan 5G auction and operators can participate in big way.
 
The net debt of Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea is to the tune of Rs. 225,711 crores as on September 30, 2018 of which Bharti Airtel’s debt is Rs. 113,204 crores and Vodafone Idea’s debt is Rs. 112,507 crores. Before 5G spectrum auction, both the operators would like to reduce their debt by getting some concessions from the government and also repaying some of their debts in 2019 by raising money from the market. This would help operators to be in comfortable position before they participate in the spectrum auction.
 
In 2019, the operators would like to increase their geographical coverage with respect to 4G and also focus on fiberization of towers from  present 30% to 60% so that they can leverage 5G in big way in 2020.    
 
So, most likely, it appears that 5G spectrum auction will happen only in last quarter of FY2019-20 say between January – March 2020. 

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