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Only two telecom operators have hinted that they are close to 5G roll out in the country.
- It’s been a year since first 5g smartphone was launched in India.
- 5G smartphones have become affordable in last few months.
- There is still time before the network is officially rolled out.
Is it the right time to buy a 5G smartphone in India or should we wait further a question we are frequently asked these days in India Today Tech’s weekly Q&A videos. It is a very important but tricky question to answer. There is still no confirmation about when the latest network connectivity will be available in the country, even though at least two telecom operators Reliance Jio and Airtel, have confirmed that they are working on the same. Yet, the market is already full of smartphones that support 5G and some of them are even marketing it as their biggest selling point.
For some it may be surprising why almost all smartphone makers including Apple jumped on to the 5G bandwagon, months before there was a word on its availability in the country but it’s a common practice to build hype around an upcoming technology which not only allows telecom operators to test it but also leaves scope for prices to fall by the time the tech goes mainstream.
Things are not as simple for customers. They still need to make a tough decision whether to spend extra and get a 5G smartphone right now, hoping that the connectivity is rolled out soon or to opt for a feature-loaded smartphone with 4G support and hope that they can rely on it for next 18 to 24 months, without missing out on much. Either way, it’s not an easy call.
Brief history of 5G smartphones in India
To make an informed decision, it is important to know how 5G smartphones have evolved in India. It was around the same time last year, when the first smartphone with 5G support was launched in the country. In fact, there were two. In as many days. The Realme X50 Pro and iQOO 3 were both launched in February 2020 and were priced over Rs 40,000 for the 5G variant. Most smartphones that were equipped with the tech were priced on the higher side for the next few months OnePlus 8 Pro, Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and the iPhone 12 series. Even Xiaomi’s Mi 10 raised a few eyebrows for being priced over Rs 50,000 with 5G support.
Since then, things have changed a bit. We already have more aggressively priced 5G smartphones in India. The OnePlus Nord was the first of its kind, bringing the experience to sub-Rs 25,000 category. An experience we are yet to experience. Now, we have 5G smartphones such as Mi 10i and Realme X7 selling around the Rs 20,000 mark while Realm CEO Madhav Sheth has already hinted that Realme Narzo series can include the most affordable 5G phone in the country till date. Meanwhile, the Redmi Note 10 series might bring the technology to a further aggressive price point.
The point we are trying to make here is that the cost of 5G phones has gone down by almost 50 per cent in last 12 months. This happened even as there is no clarity on the roll out and the trend is expected to continue over the next few months as well.
What do we know about 5G roll out?
Only two telecom operators have hinted that they are close to 5G roll out in the country Reliance Jio and Airtel. Out of these, only Airtel has shared some details. The telecom giant recently announced that it has successfully conducted on-field trails in Hyderabad to establish the ability of 5G and became the first service provider to demonstrate its 5G network capability before the rollout. Jio, on the other hand, had said that it has built an indigenous 5G solution and will be ready to launch their service by the second half of 2021. However, there hasn’t been a word from the company since then.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is hosting an auction for 5G frequency bands next month. The auctions will be held for 700 MHz to 2,500 MHz bands in March 2021. Globally, 3,300-3,600MHz bands are more popular. Even if the auction is successfully held, it will still take months before 5G tech is deployed and becomes accessible in the country.
A recent report submitted in the Parliament said that the government expects 5G services to roll out by early 2022 after another spectrum auction that is planned to be held after six months. This means it is unlikely that the mass adaptation happens before 2022, at least.
Where does this leaves the buyers?
Smartphone buyers typically want value for money. Policies and plans are just plain text for them. Going by that simple logic, there is no harm buying a 5G phone right now but buying a phone because of 5G, won’t be the smartest decision. Most phone launched last year with 5G would already be outdated in other departments by the time technology is rolled out in the country. Some of them will also require upgrades.
No matter how much smartphone makers talk about 5G, it shouldn’t be your priority while making a buying decision. The best way to go about it would be if you a smartphone that is still running and can last for few months, stick to it. If for some reason, you have to upgrade, assess the smartphone on other factors display, design, battery, camera, performance, price or anything else you want to, but 5G.
Another interesting aspect is that two of the most sought-after segments in India sub-Rs 10,000 and Rs 20,000 still have none or few options with 5G support. This will change fast. By the time 5G eventually comes to India, you will have more and better options to choose from.