India’s first 5G services were launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the India Mobile Congress (IMC) event over the weekend, which also featured a raft of announcements and technology demonstrations from the country’s vendors and service providers.

Bharti Airtel was the first operator to launch 5G services on a commercial basis, with the telco switching on its 5G network in eight cities: Delhi, Mumbai, Varanasi, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Nagpur and Siliguri. In a speech at the conference, Airtel Chairman Sunil Mittal added that 5G would be extended to most cities by March 2023 and would be available across the country by March 2024. The conference also saw Airtel demonstrate a virtual reality (VR) advertisement powered by 5G, as well as a VR and augmented reality (AR) education experience.

Reliance Jio Infocomm (Jio), meanwhile, stuck to its plans to inaugurate its 5G services by Diwali (22 October), with the operator set to launch its own-branded 5G phone around the same time. Jio’s 5G service will initially be available in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai but will be extended nationwide by December 2023.

For its part, cash-strapped cellco Vodafone Idea (Vi) offered little new information on its 5G deployment. The operator’s rollout is understood to be awaiting the completion of its various fundraising initiatives and negotiations with vendors and infrastructure operators. Whilst Vi was not forthcoming regarding a timeline for its 5G launch, the cellco noted that it has developed a diverse range of India-specific use cases for the technology whilst it has also partnered with smartphone manufacturers – such as Samsung, Oppo and Vivo – to drive 5G ecosystem development. Vi’s 5G demonstrations included a 5G SmartAgri solution that it says combines IoT, sensors, cloud and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to deliver localised advice to small farms.

Telecom Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw was quoted by the Economic Times as saying that state-owned operator Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) was working towards the deployment of 5G in 200 cities within the next six months, with services to be launched as early as August 2023. According to the official, BSNL is targeting 80% to 90% coverage within two years. Separately, the minister disclosed that the government is planning to establish 100 5G labs across the country.

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