Bharti Airtel on 28 Jan’21 launched 5G on a use case basis at one of its stores in Hyderabad on a non-standalone network basis (i.e. fall back on 4G network) on 1,800MHz. This makes Bharti ready to rollout 5G service. The idea is to showcase its capabilities in 5G and push the 5G ecosystem of app, content, and services. There is no incremental capex as it would over time offset 4G capex and part of the investment would be fungible. We think 5G deployment for commercial use is still more than a couple of years away as spectrum availability and ecosystem development would take much longer, while 4G still has a long way in fulfilling its true potential.
◼ Plan to tackle RJio and VIL: Over the past one-year, Bharti has demonstrated its 5G capability in labs. Now, it has demonstrated the same over a commercial network. In Hyderabad, the service has gone live in Airtel stores. The company is fully 5G ready across all domains. Once government approval is received and there is adequate spectrum available, it can be rolled out to consumers.
◼ Capex outlook: The company has covered 400k villages with 4G. Now, the network is 5G ready. Incremental capex for 5G would be offset by 4G capex, so the same would be limited.
◼ 5G use case in Hyderabad: So far, it is only available for testing at its own stores in Hyderabad. The company needs permission to provide the same to customers. In labs, latency and speed is 10x better than 4G, with 3Gbps speed achieved. During the live demonstration, it achieved a speed of 300Mbps.
◼ Currently, 5G has been launched on the 1,800MHz band.
◼ Best band for 5G: In the first phase, the company need a larger chunk of spectrum, which is available in 3.5GHz, to deploy on a non-standalone (NSA) network, which would be the best approach for deployment. Bharti can start 5G operations without 3.5GHz spectrum. But the latter would play an important part as the true power of 5G would be achieved only with good quantity of 3.5Ghz spectrum.
◼ Additional mid-band spectrum requirement: Bharti has a high presence in mid-band spectrum. It has a large chunk of spectrum between 1,800MHz and 2,100MHz. It also has sub-Giga band spectrum in almost all circles, except in 7-8 circles, which can be over time re-farmed for 5G.
◼ Best deployment approach: NSA deployment can be better as it would complement its existing 4G network. Standalone (SA) network rollout would require a new core. So, initial deployment would be on NSA and then for certain pockets it would be deployed on a SA network. 300 380 460 540 620 Nov-19 Mar-20 Jun-20 Sep-20 Jan-21 Bharti Airtel Sensex – Rebased 28 January 2021 Company Update | Sector: Telecom Bharti Airtel 29 January 2021 6
◼ Equipment and device partner: Ericsson is partnering with Bharti for 5G implementation. It is partnering with multiple handset OEMs for devices.
◼ Official launch of 5G: The launch of 5G would happen only when a true 5G experience can be delivered. This would be dependent on availability of reasonable quantities of spectrum in the 3.5GHz band. It can also be implemented by re-farming lower spectrum bands, but it would be premature to do so at this point of time given the readiness of 4G v/s 5G at present. If and when enough quantity of spectrum in the mid-band is available, then it can be rolled out in a matter of months.
◼ Concerns about local standard: 1) The ecosystem should be a common global system, so that device prices are lower and interoperable. 2) There is a need for an ecosystem of devices, content, and applications. 3) Bharti is working with partners to make India-specific solutions.
◼ Focus on device pricing: Bharti has 1m 5G ready phone customers on its network, with a handset cost of INR20k. However, prices should be in INR10-15k range for the masses to adopt this technology. The company would be working with all device partners to bring 5G devices to India at affordable prices.
◼ Commercial application: 5G would require an ecosystem of innovation. If it is only used for better speeds, then it won’t be the best use of this technology. With 100x concurrency and higher speed/latency, there can be multiple alternative use of 5G like VR, AR, Airtel broadband, etc.
◼ Role of O-RAN: O-RAN is one of the ways for 5G deployment. Bharti is trying open RAN and is engaged with many strategic partners. It is happy to adopt other technologies that offer the best experience at lower cost. Over time, the open interface may become the new norm as most network equipment would be interoperable.
◼ Competition with space technologies: Space driven technology are mostly used in remote areas. It does not offer the capacity that wired 5G technology can offer. So, it would at best complement 5G technology instead of competing.
◼ ARPU uplift with 5G: ARPU in India is very low and needs to rise to INR200 and then to INR300.