Should you buy a 5G phone in India?

Smartphones manufacturers started to sell 5G smartphones in India, and we have seen a race between them to launch the first 5G device in the country early this year. 5G services in India have not commenced yet, and it will take upto 2-3 years to India’s 5G deployment. So should you buy a 5G phone in India in late 2020 or even in 2021? We are trying to answer it here

We are not going to things like what is 5G? How does it work? or what are the technologies behind 5G? Etc and will concentrate on the core subject. But to explain this, you should have basic knowledge of 4G services used in India.

What are the 4G network bands used in India?

In India, various telecom operators use 850Mhz to 2500MHz frequency bands for 4G services. In specific, In India, we use B5(850Mhz), B8(900MHz), B3(1800Mhz), B1(2100Mhz), B40(2300Mhz) and B41(2500Mhz) bands for 4G services.

  • Airtel: B5,B8,B3,B40
  • JIO: B5,B3,B40
  • Vodafone Idea: B8,B3,B1,B40,B41

What do these numbers mean?

As the frequency of EM waves increases the wavelength decreases. It means the higher frequencies like 2100/2300/2500Mhz wouldn’t travel much and quickly get distracted, and signal strength will decrease rapidly. On the other hand, 850Mhz/900Mhz has high wavelengths and can travel through long-distance, and they give us indoor coverage. Mid frequencies like 1800Mhz stay in between them. As frequency increases, it stores more data and provides faster network speeds.

So in simple terms when you stay indoors, your device will probably be connected to 850/900Mhz and give low 4G speeds but offer reliable 4G connection. When you move nearer to your windows, you probably noticed an increase in data speed. It is because your device is now connected to either 1800Mhz or higher frequencies. In outdoor you will get excellent 4G speed due to the availability of high-frequency network coverage.

If you still have not understood this concept, let me give an example: if someone is playing music in a neighbouring home, you probably hear the bass more than vocals and treble in the music. Because bass represents low frequency, vocals represent mid, and treble represents high frequency, and bass can travel a longer distance.

What are the 5G network bands used in India?

The answer is no one knows it. Because in India, the spectrum auction hasn’t happened yet. Then how smartphone manufactures launches 5G devices in India? Or how they decided which 5G network bands to include in 5G devices for India? 

If you check the specification sheet of 5G devices in India, they come with single 5G network band, the n78(3500Mhz) band. Because it is the most used 5G network band around the world and it is expected to be used in India too. So by any chance, India decides not to use n78 band in India means, these 5G devices couldn’t provide 5G service in India.

In another way if you notice the frequency it is 3500Mhz, the frequency is remarkably higher than the current highest frequencies used for 4G services in India. Which means they couldn’t travel much distance and don’t expect indoor 5G service coverage with current 5G phones.

Note: You can skip the next two sections and directly and go to “When will be 5G services available in India?” Without affecting continuity. These sections are for the informational purpose(maybe a little complex to understand)

What is expected from 5G in India?

Globally 5G services use three types of network bands, Low band, mid-band and mm-wave bands.

  1. Low band (Sub 1Ghz) – 600Mhz to 1000Mhz(1Ghz)
  2. Mid Band (Sub 6 Ghz) -1Ghz to 6Ghz
  3. Mmwave- 24Ghz to 86Ghz

In India we are only going to use frequency below 6Ghz, means low band and mid bands. mmwave is not used because it can only travel up to 200/300 meter because due to various factors and deployment of mmwave is very expensive.

Expected Speeds

The Sub-1Ghz 5G can provide the similar speed of current fastest 4G services, that is 40Mbps-120Mbps (5MB/s to 15MB/s) and Sub-6Ghz wifi can provide up to 1Gbps (125MB/s) or 300-500Mbps (35-60MB/s) speed on average.

So maybe if you are wondering how we can get these fantastic speeds with similar frequency ranges of 4G services. It is due to various technologies like Massive MIMO, Beamforming, Carrier Aggregation, use of both licensed and unlicensed (LTE-U) spectrum, 1024-QAM (Quadrature Amplitude Modulation, use of a lot of small transmitters, etc.

But if we are going through each of these, this article will be too long and hard to understand for most folks, so if you are interested in making a separate article for how 5G services works, please let us know

Advantages of 5G over 4G

  1. massive amount of raw bandwidth – 600Mhz to 6Mhz(in India) vs 850Mhz to 2500Mhz for LTE (helps to avoid speed loss due to traffic congestion)
  2. low latency –  decrease in end-to-end latency down to 1ms (for games your ping will reduce to 1ms), deliver more instantaneous, realtime internet access. Important for robotic surgery and self-driving cars.
  3. Delivering up to 20 Gigabits per-second peak data rates and 100+ Megabits per-second average data rates (after fully developed)
  4. 100x increase in traffic capacity and network efficiency
  5. Reliability And Simplified Resource Allocation
  6. Etc

The current deployment of 5G in overseas still have latency and upload speed of the usual 4G network.

When will be 5G services available in India?

To start 5G services in India, first, the spectrum auction should happen, which is expected to occur in 2021. Then network operators have to start test trials and after that, they have to start deploying 5G equipment to start the service. In India, it is expected to start 5G services in early 2023. But now with global Covid-19 pandemic, it is shifted to late 2023 or early 2024.

If it is not useful, why are smartphone manufactures launching 5G devices in India?

Many of you know, 5G services already live in countries like the US, China and other European countries. In smartphones, network modem is a part of Processor(SoC), and when processor manufactures like Qualcomm or MediaTek build a processor, they build it for the global market. So when they are making new processors, they include integrated 5G modem in it. So when phone manufacturers buy these processors, they also have to pay the price for the 5G modem even if they have the intention to use it or not. 

For example, Qualcomm latest 700 series and 800 series processors come with 5G modem. But the 800 series (SD865 or SD865+) do not come with integrated 5G modem instead Qualcomm sells these processors as a combo package(SD865+ external 5G modem). Anyway, phone manufactures have to pay the price for the modem. 

Some of the latest 5G Processors from Qualcomm are SD865, SD865+, SD765, SD765G, SD750G(new), SD768G(new). Now if you look at all the 5G smartphones in India, they either come with SD865, SD865+, SD765 or  SD765G. So manufacturers have to pay the money anyway. Hence, they enable the 5G devices in devices with these devices by adding more antennas for MIMO (a technology used in 5G), release and market it as 5G devices with a higher price tag. Usually, the 5G model a device has a much higher price tag than its 4G model.

Verdict: Should you buy a 5G phone in India today?

Our answer is No. There is no need to buy a phone for its 5G support. Wait until the auction happens and manufactures has a clear idea about frequency bands going to use here and launch devices with all of these bands. Until then buy the most suitable device for you by looking at other factors. On the other hand, if the phone you are going to buy has 5G support, it may be useful after two or three years. But most of the people usually change phones in every 1-2 years or less. So it may not be useful at all.

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