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Chasing 5G across the national capital

A 5G chaser takes you along on a journey of discovery as the 5th generation mobile network is rolled out in India. There are many surprises

The author was able to catch 5G finally on one smartphone. Which one?
The author was able to catch 5G finally on one smartphone. Which one? (pixabay)

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You may have heard of storm chasers, but has anyone heard of 5G chasers? No, right. Well, let me tell you about a certain 5G chaser (aka, Sahil Bhalla, the author of this article) and his journey towards finding that elusive 5G signal.

To tell you about my journey as a 5G chaser, I’m going to take you on a day-by-day account of my pursuit of the elusive 5 G. Read on till the end to find out whether I was successful in seeing the 5G signal pop up in the top right corner of my smartphone(s).

29th September: Even before the launch of 5G at the India Mobile Congress, reports emerged that the Indira Gandhi International Airpot (Terminal-3) was 5G ready. “The Delhi airport is ready to support 5G services and passengers will be able to utilise the high-speed mobile service inside Terminal-3 (T-3) and its surrounding areas as soon as it is rolled out, a spokesperson for the airport operator said on Thursday,” read a report in the Hindustan Times.

1st October: Shortly after honourable PM Shri Narendra Modi inaugurated 5G services at the India Mobile Congress, Bharti Airtel’s chairman Sunil Bharti said its 5G services would be available in eight cities starting from 1st October itself. Armed with a Galaxy Z Flip 4 and Galaxy Z Fold 4, I walked around India Mobile Congress but to no avail. No 5G signal in sight. A few of my fellow technology journalists reported a signal, but I was out of luck. Disappointed, I headed out to have some delicious food at Cafe Lota and figure out my next steps.

2nd October: I decided against going back to the India Mobile Congress as I didn’t think Day 2 would be any different. I was not optimistic even though I had heard rumblings of a launch event for Airtel 5G Plus within the next few days. I decided to wait until the day after that event, to trudge out of my house in the hope of being proven wrong.

4th October: Reliance Jio announces the launch of Jio True 5G. The company said that the Jio True 5G Welcome Offer will be available in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Varanasi and users will be invited. The invited users will also get “unlimited 5G data up to 1Gbps+ speeds”. Yet another promise, yet another disappointment, as I got no invite to the date of publication of this article, despite clicking on the banner several times and indicating my interest.

6th October: Airtel 5G Plus is officially here. After a big-bang launch event at 6 PM, the company officially rolled out its 5G services in 8 cities - Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Siliguri, Nagpur and Varanasi.

7th October:With the knowledge of 5G “officially” in Delhi courtesy of Airtel, I headed to the airport after a working Friday with a friend to a cafe with many 5G smartphones. Yes, all Apple iPhones and certain Android smartphones need a software update before their users can have any semblance of 5G. You can check this important piece of information directly on the Airtel website.

I walked the length and breadth of Terminal-3’s arrivals area. Nothing. I decided to broaden my search and boarded the Delhi Metro to Shivaji Stadium. I was getting faster 4G signals onboard the metro than at the “5G ready” airport terminal. Sigh.

Nothing in Connaught Place and Khan market either – I still remained an unsuccessful 5G chaser.

8th October: Armed with the knowledge that 5G is “officially” here in the National Capital Region and unaware of the intensity of the impending rains, this 5G chaser got dressed and made his way to the Delhi Metro. I had seen a tweet from a fellow journalist about how he got a 5G signal whilst in a moving cab in Gurgaon. I took my Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Galaxy Z Flip 4, boarded the Delhi Metro, and went to CyberHub and Golf Course Road in Gurgaon. My fellow journalist friend told me to postpone my trip to Sunday as the rain was lashing down violently. I didn’t listen, as the urge to test 5G got the better of good advice.

Alas, it was a fruitless chase, even though I consoled myself with some fine hot chocolate in the middle. CyberHub was a disappointment. My watch told me I did over 10,000 steps, so I must have wandered all over CyberHub. Yet that 5G signal was nowhere to be had. I switched SIMs between both phones but landed up with slow 4G speeds for the most part.

Dejected, but not ready to give up, I tweeted to ask if anyone had gotten a signal and all signs lead me back to CyberHub.

9th October: This was it. It was my last try, I thought to myself. The story wasn’t going to write itself. Whether I got a 5G signal or not, something was going to be published! Even if it was a story of failure which is rarely told especially with regard to new technologies.

Determined as ever, I packed five 5G-ready smartphones and headed back to CyberHub.

Thankfully, the downpour ended on Saturday and petered into a drizzle by Sunday. I could leisurely walk to every corner of CyberHub, I thought. Upon reaching my destination, I was still staring at a 4G signal. A week of eyes glazed over that 4G sign on my smartphone.

Being the eternal optimist I decided to give it one last shot. I sat in a corner at the far end of CyberHub and changed my SIM from one phone to another. Between every change, I walked at least one-third of a kilometre.

After rotating my SIM five times, I still didn’t get the 5G signal. Forget about the speeds, the signal wasn’t there at all! Having heard that some of my friends and fellow journalists had experienced it on their Galaxy Z Flip 4 smartphones, I turned to that trusty little fellow. I popped in the SIM, made sure the “5G” connection was selected and started my walk. Hallelujah.

This 5G chaser finally had his moment. I got 5G all around CyberHub, but with varying speeds. Nonetheless, I was ecstatic. I was over the moon! After all these months of hearing about the 5G launch and testing all these 5G smartphones while on a 4G network I finally hit paydirt - in a good area, the speeds would have been super impressive to all passersby.

After CyberHub I headed to Ambience Mall where there was no 5G signal. On my way to 32nd Avenue, I again got lucky and had 5G for a large stretch of the journey. I lost it at 32nd Avenue, which again, had no 5G signal.

One thing I noticed was that my data was being drained in seconds. I opened the Speedtest app a bunch of times but besides that I had hardly used the smartphone for anything except paying for an Uber on Paytm and booking two rides via Uber. Surprisingly, I was down 2.5GB in a matter of hours. Yes, this was using the data usage tracker on my smartphone, and may not be 100% reliable, but still.

The week started (yes, Sunday for me, is the first day of the week) with a bang. I had finally seen 5G on my smartphone. It’s a different matter that I haven’t been able to experience since that day. Sigh! The elusiveness of signals that turn chasers into dancers!

Here’s something to think about. Telecom networks in the USA launched 5G in April 2019. Last year, I was in the country for five whole months. My one day of experiencing 5G in Delhi and surrounding areas was longer than my experience of 5G in the USA! That says quite a lot.

5G is here in India and the coverage area is only going to get larger. When Reliance Jio finally launches, at the time of Diwali, everyone is going to be on social media posting images and video recordings of their 5G experience. Reliance Jio claims their coverage area is going to be much larger. Because, for now, 5G tariffs are going to be on par with 4G, which means it’ll be affordable. Airtel says that “all of urban India is to be covered in 2023 making this one of the fastest roll-outs”.

Once you get a taste of 5G, you’d never want to go back to 4G.

Updated to add: On 15 October, I got blazing fast speeds in Delhi's Defence Colony area

Unbelievable speeds
Unbelievable speeds

Updated to add, again: I went to the international airport on 16 October and I can confirm that the “5G-ready IGI Airport” in fact has ZERO 5G signal!

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