The 5G era is finally here, and the new year will see a lot of use cases in various fields and people utilising the benefits of the technology. Also, India will be one of the first countries where 5G will be used more by consumers than enterprises.

One of the main reasons for end consumers using more of 5G services in India, unlike any other country, is that India still has the cheapest data tariffs and 5G smartphones are also comparatively cheaper than several other countries.

Use cases like augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and gaming will be sought-after in India when 5G services gain momentum. According to a report by Deloitte-CII, India is poised to become a leading country in 5G penetration and development over the next 5-7 years due to its high population density, along with its reliable phase-wise launch plan in long-term scenarios.

Telecom service providers (TSPs) are working with the government to deploy use cases to accelerate commercial 5G adoption by enterprises and end users, while State governments are gearing up for adopting and integrating the technology in applications for enhanced governance, said the report.

However, a lot needs to be done, too, especially at the State-levels, when it comes to laying fibre and erecting towers.

“Fiberisation being critical for the success of 5G, a lot needs to be done, as only around 35 per cent of the base base transceiver station (BTS or towers) sites are presently connected to fiber networks.

While the Centre, creditably, introduced the amended Right of Way (RoW) guidelines in early 2022, huge challenges still remain in ground-level implementation of the same at different State and local authority levels,” SP Kochhar, Director General, Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), told businessline.

Expedited adoption of these guidelines by the States/local authorities will facilitate faster deployment of telecom infrastructure for establishing an efficient pan-India 5G network and faster rollout of the services, he said.

5G and GDP

According to Kochhar, 5G network technology is expected to contribute about two per cent to India’s GDP, amounting to $180 billion by 2030. According to Ericsson’s mobility report, 5G subscribers in India are expected to reach around 690 million by the end of 2028, and urban areas are likely to have 5G services available for public consumption by March this year.

According to Nokia India, 2023 is also expected to witness wider adoption of private networks by enterprises and businesses for enhanced efficiency and security.

Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio are also investing heavily on 5G. Airtel is expected to invest between ₹27,000 crore and ₹28,000 crore and state-owned BSNL ₹16,000 crore in 2023 for rolling out an indigenously developed 4G network by TCS and C-DoT-led consortium.

Later, the systems will be upgraded to 5G whenever BSNL is ready for its services. Similarly, Jio has committed to invest around ₹87,947 crore for the spectrum that it has to pay over a period of 20 years, leaving a balance of ₹1.12-lakh crore. While the company had invested a partial amount in building its own 5G crore, it will invest a major part of the ₹1.12-lakh crore in capex for 5G in 2023.

Telcos are expected to invest more than ₹1.5-lakh crore in the sector. In the hiring part, the telecom and allied sector may increase its hiring by 25-30 per cent this year, according to some independent reports.

Prashant Singhal, Emerging Markets, technology, media and telecommunications (TMT) leader, EY, says operators have focussed on offering enhanced mobile broadband as a key value proposition to start with as they look to steadily increase 5G coverage.

“As has been the case globally, initial consumer 5G use cases in India will focus on immersive content/gaming using a combination of AR/VR/MR. We expect to see more announcements from operators on this front in the later part of 2023. It is important to identify 5G use cases that have a wider impact on the lives of people in India. For instance, can we think of immersive education or for that matter 5G-enbaled telemedicine. India needs to ride on the 5G innovation bandwagon to capitalise on the true benefits of the technology,” he said. Singhal said, globally, a majority of operators did not charge any premium to equivalent 4G service plans after launching commercial 5G services. The initial focus was on attracting/migrating as many customers to 5G, and India is also likely to follow suit.

Tariff plans

He added that 5G-specific tariff plans are expected to emerge in India in the next 3-4 months. With the advent of 5G, truly unlimited plans are making a comeback globally, as these are popular with 5G users. Few operators that are charging a premium for 5G services have bundled content services with unlimited data. It remains to be seen how operators in India will monetise 5G.

Apart from 5G use cases, India will also see new reforms in the telecom sector, with the Telecommunication Bill being finalised by the second half of the year (Parliament is likely to clear it in the Monsoon Session), which will pave the way for more game-changing reforms in future.