Qualcomm upbeat on 5G deployments in India, calls for early airwaves auction

US chipmaker Qualcomm Inc is upbeat on upcoming 5G rollouts in India and has made a strong pitch for an early auction of airwaves, especially in bands where current global deployments are underway.

“What’s needed are spectrum auctions, and it would be good to do that in bands which are consistent with deployments happening in the rest of the world,” Durga Malladi, Senior Vice President, Engineering & GM (4G/5G) at Qualcomm Technologies, Inc told ET.

Qualcomm, he said, sees “a very promising start” as India prepares to ring in this ultra-fast wireless technology, especially since mid-band (spectrum) in 3.5 GHz along with millimetre (wave) airwaves in the 26 GHz band are under consideration in India.

Telecom Secretary Aruna Sundararajan has said the 5G spectrum sale is expected in the second half of 2019, although the government is yet to indicate a specific timeline.

Malladi said Qualcomm has been “quite active in terms of engaging with both India’s telecom ministry and the sector regulator (read: Trai) and in educating folks on what can be done on the 5G front.

“Keep in mind that among all the devices we are partnering with, quite a few of those are pretty popular in India. These devices will be there with 5G,” he said.

Qualcomm’s optimism about India’s initial 5G overtures come barely months after a high-level panel suggested that the government announce a 5G spectrum allocation policy by end of this year, and recommended earmarking additional airwave bands for supporting the next-gen technology which is tipped to have an economic impact upwards of a $1 trillion.

The high-level 5G Forum, set up by the government, has also suggested that most guidelines on regulatory matters be promulgated by March 2019 to facilitate early 5G deployments in India.

Telecom minister Manoj Sinha has repeatedly said “India cannot afford to miss the 5G bus since the superfast wireless broadband technology is slated to ring in a rapid transformation in agriculture, manufacturing and social sectors where India can emerge as a global technology innovator.

The senior Qualcomm executive downplayed concerns around 5G ecosystem challenges, saying though the infrastructure ecosystem is diverse, the same vendors present in the rest of the world are also there in India.

“The challenges that we know exist in India aren’t very different from any other parts of the world. Different countries are at different stages of mass deployment of fibre and so on,” said Malladi.

He also reiterated that the advent of 5G technologies would not signal the end of 4G LTE services. “Keep in mind that it when you get to 5G, you definitely aren’t letting go of 4G. It’s not about a rip-and-replace in 5G.”

Malladi also said telecom regulators worldwide are currently assessing the health impact of millimeter waves. All regulators of the world, he said, are working closely with the health industry.