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5G Powers Up: Set to accelerate India’s digital revolution

December 03, 2018
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By Rajan S. Mathews, Director General, Cellular Operators Association of India

The enthusiastic discussions and rapid actions on 5G are evidence of the fact that India is focused on becoming 5G ready, commercially, by 2020. Many forums and associations are talking extensively about 5G, its myriad implications and the opportunities it would open up. Technology solutions such as autonomous cars, drone patrolling for road safety and robotic healthcare diagnostics show possibilities hitherto unimaginable. Information and communications technology players, in India and abroad, are collaborating with  one another and with the government to create a platform for 5G and other emerging technologies such as internet of things (IoT), machine-to-machine (M2M), artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR).

The industry and the government are working in tandem to explore 5G use cases unique to India that can be adopted across sectors such as mining, agriculture, transportation and manufacturing. 5G-powered drones can have ample use cases in industries that deploy drones for logistics and surveillance purposes. Moreover, companies like Ericsson plan to export 5G-ready equipment from India. It has set up the country’s first centre of excellence and innovation lab for 5G at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi. Intel recently inaugurated the Intel India Design Centre for 5G and AI in Bengaluru, and is expected to employ around 3,500 people.

The Union Budget 2018-19 indicates the government’s commitment to fostering a vibrant 5G ecosystem. The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is partnering with IIT Chennai to set up a test bed to conduct research and development around 5G-based technologies such as IoT and M2M. The recently established 5G India Forum is already discussing the challenges and opportunities to make India 5G ready. The forum is actively working with experts from all over the world.

The government and the industry have realised that 5G is not just about faster data speeds and better connectivity, but also  about innovative use cases that were not imaginable previously. This downstream innovation  requires mammoth volumes of investments but the return on investment (RoI) is so promising that the industry is not shying away from building the requisite infrastructure.

It must be understood that network technologies such as 3G and especially 4G were designed for faster internet speeds. 5G is different in the way that it goes beyond just speed, by promoting new business models, and opening up new opportunities across various segments and aspects of life, including healthcare, education, logistics, manufacturing, smart cities and smart homes. India’s dream of digitalisation cannot be separated from smarter telecom and internet infrastructure.

Spectrum will be the decisive factor in ensuring the effectiveness of 5G in the future. Different use cases and applications will require different frequency bands, both licensed and unlicensed. As more and more devices get connected to the internet, owing to the proliferation of IoT, the more will be the requirement for adequate spectrum allocation. The good news is that the National Digital Communication Policy, 2018 has recognised spectrum as a natural resource and pledged to ensure its adequate availability and efficient usage, and to establish a fair and transparent allocation method for service providers. Also, since the cost of spectrum is very high, the policy has suggested the adoption of optimal pricing to ensure sustainable and affordable access to digital communication services.

For 5G spectrum to be efficient, factors like  peak data rates, latency, user type, spectrum efficiency, energy efficiency, user density, network capacity, reliability and mobility need to be taken into account. For example, sub-6 GHz frequencies are perfect for full area coverage and cost efficient delivery of mobile services and wider bandwidth. Likewise, above 24 GHz frequencies are suitable for applications that require very high data rates and wider bandwidth than what exist today. 5G needs three key frequency ranges – sub-1 GHz, 1-6 GHz and above 6 GHz – to support myriad innovative use cases.

India will be quick to adopt 5G, even though commercial deployment will not take place before late 2019 or early 2020. Operators are ready, the wherewithal is in place and the intent to leverage 5G is robust in order to achieve India’s sustainable development goals. It is imperative for India to deploy 5G, as it would create a collective economic impact of $1 trillion by 2035 and make the Indian digital dream a resounding reality. The country will need investments of about $100 billion to deploy 5G infrastructure over the next five to seven years and the government is aggressively formulating an action plan. We have had a good start towards setting the stage for 5G roll-out and once commercially deployed, the new technology will create immensely viable revenue streams for service providers. This is important, considering the acute financial distress that the sector is facing owing to crippling hypercompetition, dwindling profits and rising debt.

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