Telecom operators have deployed 20,980 base stations for 5G services as of November 26, according to the data shared by the Ministry of Communications with the Rajya Sabha.

Operators commenced 5G services on October 1, and in approximately two months, telecom operators Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel had set up 5G base stations in almost 14 States.

Reliance Jio leads in base station deployment, accounting for 17,687 of the nearly 21,000 5G base stations set up. Airtel deployed 3,293 base stations for 5G on the other hand.

Experts note that the discrepancy in the numbers between the two operators is a result of the vastly different networks that Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio are deploying. “In fact, both operators are neck and neck in the 5G race as far as deployments are concerned,” said the expert.

Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel are deploying 5G networks which are distinct from each other. While Reliance Jio is setting up a greenfield standalone 5G network, Airtel is setting up a non-standalone 5G network on top of its existing 4G layer. This means that Jio has to set up three times the base stations that Airtel has to set up.

“Jio has to put 6 radios (base stations) in each telecom tower. Three radios for 3.5 GHz and 3 radios for 700 MHz. Which is 6 in total. Airtel has to set up only two radios per tower,” said the expert. 

The reason why Reliance Jio is opting for a standalone network deployment for 5G is that they purchased 700MHz spectrum in the 5G auctions which are best suited for a standalone network deployment. 

Key States

For both operators, according to the data shared by the ministry, Maharashtra and Delhi are the key states for 5G deployment. Both telcos have deployed nearly a third of their base stations in Delhi, 938 base stations for Airtel and 4891 for Reliance Jio. Maharashtra comes next at 689 base stations for Airtel and 3362 for Reliance Jio. 

Therefore, users should realistically expect to see the most functional 5G network in Delhi especially. 

5G is going to become the new turf for competition between Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio even as the debate around whether standalone or non-standalone 5G deployment is superior continues to rage

While Airtel contends that the device ecosystem and lower capital expenditure for non-standalone make their network deployment superior, experts favouring Reliance’s standalone network contend that Jio’s standalone network will surpass Airtel’s NSA deployment in the long run.