Indian telcos have been able to garner over 20 million 5G customers in less than four months after the official launch of the service last October, according to industry estimates.
With telecom operators like Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel aggressively rolling out their 5G services in over 190 cities across the country to date, India is now only behind China and the US in terms of the number of cities in a country where 5G services have been extended.
Top executives in telcos say that the number of 5G subscribers in India is a conservative estimate and that it will rise as the roll-out gains momentum.
There are over 70 million subscribers in the country with 5G-compatible phones, and most of the devices have been upgraded with a software patch required for 5G as well as 5G non-standalone services (in the case of Reliance Jio).
And their ownership spread is widely distributed.
For instance, Bihar has 9.3 per cent of the share of 5G-enabled handsets, just behind Andhra Pradesh, which occupies the top spot, according to data by Opensignal.
Interestingly, eastern Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan have a bigger share of 5G phones than the share of such phones in Delhi and Mumbai.
Both Airtel and Jio are offering 5G services at tariffs similar to that of 4G, making it easier for customers to experience the new network.
The process of attracting more customers to 5G will also be helped by the fact that the service has been much more aggressively extended since January this year.
In less than 30 days, it has been scaled up 2.7 times, going from 70 cities at the end of December last year to 190 cities currently.
The more aggressive player in the 5G roll-out is clearly Reliance Jio, which has hit 184 cities already.
However, India is still behind China and the US when it comes to the number of cities where 5G services have been extended.
According to Statista data released a few days ago, China has 356 cities with 5G mobile services in 2022, and the US has the service in 296 cities.
But India has gone past Philippines, which has over 98 cities with 5G, and South Korea with 85 cities, even after making provision for some increases in these countries, say telcos.
If Mukesh Ambani’s speech at the annual general meeting of Reliance Industries last year is anything to go by, Jio plans to take its 5G services to every city and town in the country, right down to the taluka level, by the end of 2023.
Airtel, too, wants to make its 5G services pan-India by March next year.
That said, the customer penetration of 5G in India is just over 2 per cent at present.
And experts say that it will remain lower than many other countries in the foreseeable future.
Global technology research firm OMDIA projects a 5G penetration of 32 per cent for India in 2026.
This will be significantly lower than that in the US and China, according to estimates by GSMA, which represents mobile network operators worldwide.
GSMA says that by 2025, 5G penetration will hit 63 per cent in the US, followed by China at 52 per cent and Europe at around 44 per cent.
In terms of the absolute number of subscribers, however, India will be up amongst the leaders.
OMDIA estimates that with 369 million 5G customers in 2026, the country will be just behind China and the US in global rankings, ousting Japan from the third place (with 147 million customers).
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