The government shows no interest in extending the current minimum rollout obligations that require telcos who have purchased airwaves in the 26 GHz and 3300 MHz bands to commence 5G services by August 16.
Department of Telecommunications (DoT) officials drew attention to the initiation of trials by Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel this week in the 26 GHz band, taking place in Gujarat and West Bengal, respectively.
They suggested other telcos, like Vodafone Idea and Adani Data Networks, should swiftly follow suit. Both have acquired 5G airwaves in the band during the latest spectrum auction in 2022, but haven't yet launched 5G services.
According to the government's minimum rollout obligations, a company must commercially launch services in each of the three major metros—Delhi, Kolkata, and Mumbai—within a year post-auctions. In addition, services must be introduced in at least one city within each of the country's 22 telecom circles.
Although the rollout obligations apply similarly to the 26 GHz band and the mid-band (3,300-3,600MHz), the primary focus is on the former.
Critical band for 5G
The 26GHz band, due to its applicability for captive networks and the discontinuation of spectrum usage charges from current auctions, attracted interest from all participants. As much as 72 per cent of the spectrum available in this band received bids.
Earlier this year, however, telcos expressed concern over the lack of a supportive device ecosystem for the 26 GHz band. Industry sources mentioned that telcos had petitioned the DoT to relax the mandatory rollout regulations.
Yet, on Thursday, Airtel became the second telecom to test 5G services on the 26 GHz band, achieving data speeds of 1 Gbps during the test and hitting 560 Mbps in the 3300 MHz band.
Reliance Jio had tested 5G services in the same two bands in Gujarat a day earlier.
Current regulations enforce penalties as monetary fines if telcos fail to meet the rollout deadline. The assigned spectrum might be reclaimed according to rules if the service launch is delayed beyond a year.
Adani Data Networks acquired 400 MHz airwaves in the service areas of Gujarat, Mumbai, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Rajasthan for a total of Rs 212 crore.
The company plans to use the airwaves exclusively for captive 5G use, having acquired rights only in circles where the Adani group maintains a significant physical presence through ports, airports, and manufacturing and power generation facilities.
Meanwhile, financially strained Vi has repeatedly requested the government to extend the deadline, according to officials. "The company has requested relief due to current funding challenges, which it expects to resolve shortly," they added.
Data provided by the DoT to the Parliament last week revealed the company is currently testing its 5G services in Pune and Delhi and has deployed 36 tower sites. Vi has also completed device testing with the major OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) on its 5G networks, the company reported last month.