[Burning issue] 5G rollout in India

Context

  • October 1, 2022, marks an important date in the country’s history which is when telecom companies in India start rolling out 5G for users after months of testing.
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the commercial rollout of 5G services in India at the India Mobile Congress 2022.
  • Thus, in this edition of the Burning Issue, we will discuss the 5G technology, its rollout in India, benefits and associated concerns in detail.

What is 5G technology?

  • 5G or the fifth generation is the latest upgrade in the long-term evolution (LTE) of mobile broadband networks.
  • 5G enables a new kind of network that is designed to connect virtually everyone and everything including machines, objects, and devices. 
  • It’s a unified platform that is much more capable than previous mobile services with more capacity, lower latency, faster data delivery rate and better utilization of spectrum.
  • It mainly works in 3 bands, namely low, mid and high-frequency spectrum — all of which have their uses as well as limitations.

The lowmid, and high-frequency spectrum

  • The low band spectrum has great promise in terms of coverage and speed of internet and data exchange but the maximum speed is limited to 100 Mbps (Megabits per second).
  • So Telcos can use and install it for commercial cell phone users who may not have specific demands for very high-speed internet, the low band spectrum may not be optimal for the specialized needs of the industry.
  • The mid-band spectrum offers higher speeds compared to the low band, but has limitations in terms of coverage area and penetration of signals.
  • This band may be used by industries and specialized factory units for building captive networks that can be molded into the needs of that particular industry.
  • The high-band spectrum offers the highest speed of all three bands, but has extremely limited coverage and signal penetration strength.
  • Internet speeds in the high-band spectrum of 5G have been tested to be as high as 20 Gbps (gigabits per second), while, in most cases, the maximum internet data speed in 4G has been recorded at 1 Gbps.

Salient features of 5G technology

  • Capability: 5G will provide much faster mobile broadband service as compared to the previous versions and will provide support to previous services like mission-critical communication and the massive Internet Of Things (IoT).
  • Speed: With a peak delivery rate of up to 20 Gbps and an average of 100Mbps, it will be much faster as compared to its predecessors. The speed increment is partly achieved by using higher-frequency radio waves than in previous networks.
  • Capacity: There will be up to 100x increase in traffic capacity and network efficiency.
  • Spectrum usage: This will provide better usage for every bit of spectrum, from low bands below 1 GHz to high bands.
  • Latency: It’s expected to have lower latency with better instantaneous, real-time access of the data. The 5G, like 4G LTE, also uses Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM) but the new 5G NR (New Radio) air interface will enhance OFDM and provide better flexibility in data delivery.
  • Millimeter wave spectrum: The 5G networks will operate in the millimeter wave spectrum (30-300 GHz) which has the advantage of sending large amounts of data at very high speeds because the frequency is so high, it experiences little interference from surrounding signals.

Global situation on 5G

  • More than governments, global telecom companies have started building 5G networks and rolling them out to their customers on a trial basis.
  • In countries like the US, some companies have taken the lead when it comes to rolling out commercial 5G for their users.
  • China and the United States are significantly ahead of other nations in their 5G rollout, with a combined 652 cities in which 5G is available.
  • A South Korean company, which had started researching 5G technology way back in 2011, has, on the other hand, taken the lead when it comes to building the hardware for 5G networks for several companies.

The recent launch of 5G in India

  • 5G is officially available for commercial usage on October 1, 2022. Airtel and Jio are the only telecom players who have finalized a proper timeline for 5G services rollout in the country at the time of writing.
  • Airtel will initially offer 5G services in 8 cities including four metros. Jio, on the other hand, will launch its 5G services across key metropolitan cities including Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and Kolkata to begin with.
  • A government panel report points out that with 5G, the peak network data speeds are expected to be in the range of 2-20 Gigabit per second (Gbps). This can help in good governance and can lead to higher economic growth in India.
  • The Ministry of Communications notes that the cumulative impact of 5G on India’s economy is expected to reach a whopping $450 Billion by 2035 opening up new opportunities and societal benefits while cutting down on conventional barriers.
  • PM is pushing for Aatmanirbharta (self-reliance), with the success of Digital India being a priority. India is working on technologies that would enable it to launch its Indigenous 5G. This will help run its IoT platforms on indigenous technology for civilian as well as military applications.

Standalone and Non-Standalone 5G networks

  • Jio will offer stand-alone 5G services with zero dependencies on 4G network, or “true 5G”, Jio is the only player to have purchased the premium 700 megahertz low-band spectrum which would be “essential for deep indoor coverage” in addition to the 3500 MHz mid-band and the 26 GHz millimeter-wave band meant for ultra-high capacity.
  • Jio claims that it would combine these frequencies into a single powerful “data highway” using Carrier Aggregation for more seamless connectivity that would help connect the remotest parts of the country in the days to come. 
  • Airtel, meanwhile, has downplayed the need for the 700 MHz band saying that it would lead to additional cost and more carbon emissions (because then it would have to install large “power-guzzling” radios on this band) while giving no additional coverage compared to the 900 MHz spectrum band that it has.
  • Airtel also has a contrarian view -to Jio- on using stand-alone 5G saying that non-standalone (NSA) 5G- that Airtel would be using- offers a wider coverage and can work with more devices while allowing the use of existing 4G technology at no extra cost.

What is the 5Gi Technology network?

  • 5Gi is a locally designed telecommunication network that has been designed by IIT Hyderabad, IIT Madras and the Centre of Excellence in Wireless Technology.
  • The technology developed by Indian institutions will be an alternative to the global 5G standards and has already got a thumbs up from the International Communication Unit.
  • the main problem with global 5G technology is that the range of coverage goes down with an increase in frequency. This is where 5Gi steps in, as it provides a higher range at a lower frequency.
  • 5Gi network technology is capable of working at a lower frequency than 5G by still providing a higher range. The technology works on a Low Mobility Large Cell method, which transmits a cell-based waveform which results in increased range.
  • The TSDSi or the Telecommunications Standards Development Society of India says that “Enhanced cell coverage enabled by this standard, will be of great value in countries and regions that rely heavily on mobile technologies for connectivity but cannot afford dense deployment of base stations due to lack of deep fiber penetration, poor economics and challenges of geographical terrain.”
  • If implemented in the right manner, the 5Gi technology can be fruitful in a large country like India as the large-scale implications will make the technology cost-effective. Additionally, owing to its high range, 5Gi will be able to provide better network connectivity in the rural area of the country.

Opportunities with 5G Technology

  • High-Speed mobile network: 5G will revolutionize the mobile experience with the supercharged wireless network. Compared to conventional mobile transmission technologies, voice and high-speed data can be simultaneously transferred efficiently in 5G.
  • Entertainment and multimedia: 5G can provide 120 frames per second, high resolution and higher dynamic range video streaming without interruption. The audio-visual experience will be rewritten after the implementation of the latest technologies powered by 5G wireless. Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality services will be better experienced over 5G.
  • Internet of Things:  IoT applications collect a huge amount of data from millions of devices and sensors and thus require an efficient network for data collection, processing, transmission, control and real-time analytics which 5G network is a better candidate.
  • Smart cities: Smart city applications like traffic management, Instant weather update, local area broadcasting, energy management, smart power grid, smart lighting of the street, water resource management, crowd management, emergency response etc can use a reliable 5G wireless network for its functioning.
  • Smart farming: 5G technology will be used for agriculture and smart farming in the future. Using smart RFID sensors and GPS technology, farmers can track the location of livestock and manage them easily. Smart sensors can be used for irrigation control, access control and energy management.
  • Mission critical applications: Like telemedicine services, remote control of critical infrastructure and vehicles. It has the potential to transform industries with highly reliable, low latency links.
  • Better Governance: Better speed and connectivity would reduce red tapism. It will enhance the speedy completion of projects and better implementation of policies. It will enable accountability in the system through a better monitoring system and will reduce corruption.
  • Employment generation: 5G wireless technology will open greater opportunities for new device manufacturers and application developers. New VoIP devices and smart devices will be introduced in the market and thus more job opportunities as well. This will help in inclusive growth reaping the demographic dividend.
  • Enhanced Security: 5G wireless technology is one the best solution for security surveillance due to its higher bandwidth and unlicensed spectrum. It will enhance better coordination among various agencies. Smart appliances which can be configured and accessed from remote locations, closed circuit cameras will provide high-quality real-time video for security purposes.
  • Logistics and Shipping: Logistic and shipping industry can make use of smart 5G technology for goods tracking, fleet management, centralized database management, staff scheduling and real-time delivery tracking and reporting.
  • Industrial Growth: Future industries will depend on smart wireless technologies like 5G and LTE advanced for efficient automation of equipment, maintenance, safety, tracking, smart packing, shipping, logistics and energy management.
  • Agricultural applications: 5g technology can be used for agriculture and smart farming in the future. Using smart RFID sensors and GPS technology, farmers can track the location of livestock and manage them easily. Smart sensors can be used for irrigation control, access control and energy management.
  • Healthcare and mission-critical applications: 5G technology will support medical practitioners to perform advanced medical procedures with a reliable wireless network connected to another side of the globe. Doctors can connect with patients from anywhere anytime and advise them when necessary. Scientists are working on smart medical devices which can perform remote surgery. Smart medical devices like wearables will continuously monitor a patient’s condition and activate alerts during an emergency.

Challenges with 5G in India

  • Enabling critical infrastructures: 5G will require a fundamental change to the core architecture of the communication system. The major flaw of data transfer using 5G is that it can’t carry data over longer distances. Hence, even 5G technology needs to be augmented to enable infrastructure.
  • Financial liability on consumers: For a transition from 4G to 5G technology, one has to upgrade to the latest cellular technology, thereby creating financial liability for consumers.
  • Capital Inadequacy: Lack of flow of cash and adequate capital with suitable telecom companies (like Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea) is delaying the 5G spectrum allocation.
  • Frequency allocation: Indian operators have far less spectrum in comparison to international operators. The high investment cost makes telecom companies unsure about Return on Investment.
  • Pricing: The 5G spectrum is overpriced by at least 30% to 40% compared to international standards and auctions in other markets such as South Korea and the U.S. In previous auctions, the government saw no takers for the 700 MHz spectrum, which is used to offer high-speed 4G services and was put on sale for the first time, mainly due to the high reserve price.
  • Network investment: In India, the telecom sector is facing capital augmentation issues that need to be resolved. Non-availability of funds for investment: Many Indian operators are also weighed down by debt.
  • Regulatory restrictions: Faster rounds of new technology introduction when prior technology investments have not been recouped add further complexity.
  • Technical Challenges: Designing IT architecture that can be deployed globally, while still allowing for localized technology to cater to different regions is a challenge. Though Reliance Inc. has some plans to roll out 5G.

Geopolitics related to 5g technology

  • Nearly a decade ago a report by the US House Intelligence Committee flagged issues posed by Chinese telecom companies Huawei Technologies and ZTE. The US Federal Communications Commission has designated these two companies as national security threats.
  • Soon after, the US, Britain and Australia announced a ban on equipment from Huawei in their country’s high-speed wireless networks.
  • India along with Canada and some other countries is reviewing security implications and has yet to decide on allowing Huawei to provide equipment for them.
  • Most observers see this as a ‘technological cold war’ that could extend beyond just the US and China, and compel other countries, including India, to effectively choose between one camp and the other. This could be an another challenge for India in future.

Way forward

  • We should focus on strengthening our cyber infrastructure and also cyber security as the telecom networks advance to prevent cyber security breaches.
  • 5G start-ups that enable this design and manufacturing capabilities should be promoted. This will spur leaps in the coverage, capacity, affordability and density of wireless networks.
  • Funds should be allocated and local technology and telecom firms should be incentivized to develop their internal capacities which would in turn help 5G technology succeed in the country.
  • Push for “Make in India” manufacturing for 5G equipment and handsets.
  • Scientists and Industries should work together to bring 5G technology quicker to the entire nation rather than getting entangled in policy processes & bureaucratic rifts.
  • Telecom companies should augment their infrastructure and capabilities to provide a true 5G experience to customers as still many parts of the country lack even a 4G network.
  • The financial condition of telecom companies should be improved to maintain competition in the Indian telecom market and thus attract new companies or FDI in the sector.

Conclusion

  • By acting early on adoption, India can accelerate the 5G dividends and also become an innovator in applications and this technology.
  • Supreme data download rates, three times greater spectrum efficiency, and super low latency will empower India to experience cases like seamless video calls, instant downloads and uploads and seamless gaming on the cloud thus the beginning of a new era for India’s technology landscape.

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