Airtel and Jio get into 5G sprint

Giants seek first mover advantage


October 8, 2022

/ By / New Delhi

Airtel and Jio get into 5G sprint

Benefits and uptake of 5G mobile telephony services in India remain to be seen

Days after the official launch of 5G mobile telephony services in India, two of the biggest players, Reliance Jio and Airtel have gotten into the act, aggressively building for introducing the service as soon as possible, with the hope of capturing higher market share.

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Last week as the 5G network was officially launched in India by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the India Mobile Congress (IMC), two of the biggest players in telecom, market leader Reliance Jio and its closest rival Bharti Airtel announced their own plans to start rolling out the service across the country in phases, with the aim to extend their 5G footprint all over India in the shortest period of time.

However, the full rollout of the 5G services will take place in phases and will be first launched in 13 Indian cities, that include Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Chandigarh, Chennai, Delhi, Gandhinagar, Gurugram, Hyderabad, Jamnagar, Kolkata, Lucknow, Mumbai and Pune.

The technology promises to not only bring a speedier network for a data-hungry generation, but will also lend a helping hand to some public service sectors, such as healthcare, on-farm technologies, and swift disaster management. The IMC has showcased opportunities emerging in the digital realm in 2022.

Standalone or Non-standalone

Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio will roll out in standalone mode, a slightly sluggish version of the 5G network but its 700 Mhz spectrum compensates for the loss. While its rival, Bharti Mittal-owned Airtel does not own a high spectrum bandwidth, it will roll out its 5G services in NSA (or Non-standalone mode), which offers better call quality to the users and more stable connections. While a standalone spectrum is built specifically for a 5G network, NSA has a 5G network built over a 4G network, which provides more stability and is a lot more affordable than standalone networks.

But Jio is going ahead with its standalone model as it aims to target high-end consumers with the launch of a 5G network across India, even though it is more expensive than Airtel’s NSA network. However, the telecom business is full of surprises. When Airtel witnessed phenomenal growth during the lockdowns of 2020, Jio retaliated aggressively by boosting its OTT platforms. This led to both the firms getting locked into a neck-to-neck competition.

In 2021, Airtel revolutionised IoT technology in India when it noticed an important trend in the industry that stated that 20-30 pc of digital ads were completely ignored by the spectators. Therefore, Airtel decided to offer four brand new services on different platforms, including Airtel mobile network, Broadband and landline, DTH through Airtel TV, Airtel Thanks for online payments and Airtel Wynk Music.

In terms of data usage, there is not much to separate the users of the two telecom giants. Jio users consume about 12 to 14 GB of data per month, whereas Airtel users consume 16-20 GB of data a month. With its advertising services, Airtel may be able to generate more advertising revenues. Also, by going with NSA model, Airtel says its download speeds would be faster as it is possible to use 4G mid-band airwaves along with C-band 5G spectrum to obtain faster download speeds.

It is a noted trend in the business of telecom that once the users become habituated to a particular ecosystem, chances are they will use other services of that ecosystem as well. Airtel, through its Xstream app, demonstrated how it could hook users to its platforms. It introduced 170 OTT platforms on the app with the facility to download content for offline viewing. Initially, most of its services were free of charge, an offer that attracted even more users. Using these platforms, Airtel will generate revenue from more than 350 million users by showing them ads. Airtel shows six different types of ads to its users: Display ads, Video Ads, Audio ads, SMS ads, Call ads, and DTH ads. Although, Jio’s ecosystem is much larger than Airtel’s, that includes Jio telecom, broadband, LIVE TV, Jio Cinema, newspaper, money, and Saavn Music.

5G boost for many sectors

According to Ericsson’s mobility report, 5G will not only benefit the rural population, but it will also give a boost to urban gamers, innovators across cloud computing, and cross-platform sharing, including the use of AI and VR technologies.

However, students at schools and universities in India look forward to using 5G mobile telephony in order to bridge the gap created by the digital divide. In a recent survey, conducted by Opensignal, asking people’s opinions about which sector is going to get the maximum boost through the introduction of 5G technology, people voted for education as their preference.

“I believe that 5G is going to bring a dramatic change in all sectors, bridging the digital divide. If you look at the way data is consumed in the Indian market, it is all going to change for the better. So, even the education sector will be benefited. The way we do marketing, FMCG consumption, or banking, the way information is consumed, it’s all going to change. With its extremely low latency rate, 5G will offer faster, more reliable and smoother content delivery to the students,” Deepak Gupta, Principal Consultant at R K Swamy BBDO, a large advertising agency in New Delhi, tells Media India Group.

Many believe that Indian users have started using the internet productively since the onset of Covid-19 lockdowns. “Probably because of how most people in India consumed online content during the pandemic, people have started shifting their focus towards self-growth and finding new opportunities. Here, 5G is going to take them one step further,” Shipra Raj, Researcher, Department of Media and Communication, Jamia Millia Islamia, tells Media India Group.

Moreover, by 2023, it is estimated that with the deployment of the 5G networks in India, brands will revolutionise the way they advertise their products and target their audience. Advertising will no longer remain a one-to-one medium. Customers and vendors will be able to send their videos to digital posters, where they can interact with each other. It is also rumoured that the audience can interact with the characters in the ads. As each person will see different ads based on his/her preference, brands will be able to target their audience better with the rollout of 5G services.

There are many reported features that the telecom providers highlight about the capabilities of 5G. These include digital billboards that will display real-time updates on local weather, news, speed limits or public announcements. The biggest advantage of digital billboards will be their fluidity. They will display real-time updates faster than the traditional billboards in India, where static text is displayed for weeks.

However, experts say that most of the demonstrated features of the 5G technology have already been introduced earlier, but only time will tell whether 5G can give it a boost or not. “The 3D hologram or VR technology has been demonstrated even before. Way back in 2014, even when Modi contested parliamentary elections, at that time he had used holographic images, that too in a live broadcast. He was delivering a speech in Delhi, and people could see his 3D figure through a live feed. I hope that this concept gets enhanced by the introduction of 5G technology,” says Deepak Gupta of RK Swamy BBDO.

It may take some time to see how good the 5G technology may be. But one of the basic hurdles in 5G adoption nationwide is that very few consumers in India own 5G-enabled smartphones. And even then when a consumer is ready to surf on 5G, the higher cost of the plans may put them off. After all, the total number of mobile subscribers in India fell in 2021 December from 1.154 billion to 1145 billion and since then it has declined further to 1.01 billion in April 2022.

When 5G arrives in India, the cost of the data plans will increase surprisingly after the initial benefits. Chances are that these plans will soon become unaffordable to an average mid-segment consumer.



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