The Indian government is earmarking a 5G launch in 2022, as the country continues to play catch-up to leading Asian nations South Korea, China and Japan.

In an interview with Bloomberg, telecoms secretary Aruna Sundararajan said the 5G roll-out will be complete by 2022, around two-to-three years after powerhouses South Korea, Japan and China launch their networks.

South Korea and Japan are planning 2019 launches, with China following in 2020.

Sundararajan said India was “not there yet” on 5G, adding it “won’t be driven by supply, it’ll be driven by demand and the rest of the industry needs to wake up to this”.

Indian operators are still involved in an aggressive 4G price war, instigated by the entrance of Reliance Jio almost two year ago.

Indeed, the country, which is the world’s second-largest mobile market behind China, traditionally lags behind the three Asian markets in terms of launching technology, but there has been a big drive around digital services by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Deploying 5G will prove a significant step in progressing Modi’s Digital India initiative, with low latency and high-speed broadening internet access in the country, and helping with government plans for smart cities.

“If we want smart cities, clearly we need smart infrastructure for it,” added Sundararajan.

China aid
Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Christopher Lane told Bloomberg a slight lag from India on 5G could prove beneficial for the country in the long-run.

“India needs China to launch to drive economies of scale and lower 5G handsets,” he said.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) last week outlined proposals to release 5G-suitable frequency in the 3.6GHz band, but prices are expected to remain high by international standards. Dates for the auction are not yet announced.

As part of its 5G launch, Bloomberg added the country is also looking to increase its fibre network rollout to 2.5 million km by 2022, from 1.5 million km currently.