Do you want internet speeds multiple times what your 4G data connection presently offers? The answer lies in 5G, but it is unlikely to be available soon in India or anywhere else in the world.

Its rollout is now caught in the geopolitics involving the US and China — two players who have a critical role to play in the technology. The world is dependent on China for telecom equipment but China in turn depends on the US for the critical technology that drives the telecom equipment.

Last Monday, the US banned American firms from selling components to Chinese telecom equipment maker ZTE Corp, which is said to have illegally shipped goods to Iran. This will hit companies like Qualcomm that supply chips for ZTE’s phones sold globally.

The transition from 4G to 5G will be smooth technologically, but politically it will be a challenge, as escalating trade war between the US and China could possibly delay deployment of 5G networks globally, including India, said Nagabhushana T Sindhushayana, Vice President, Technology, Qualcomm. “Today, it is ZTE. Tomorrow, it could be any other company. We don’t know,” he added.

“China has built a large 5G ecosystem, including infrastructure vendors and mobile companies and supported by companies like Qualcomm, and could possibly lead the world in 5G deployment. If that ecosystem is cut out, it will impact other geographies, including India and Korea,” he told BusinessLine .

5G will be important for India’s digital drive. Indigenous vendors need to build products and acquire first-hand experience on issues around chips and modules in modem or base stations to build a strong foundation for seamless deployment in future, Sindhushayana further said.

Since ZTE (and Huawei) are major equipment providers globally, especially in India, the ban will impact network infrastructure and device ecosystems, said Chris Antlitz | Telecom Senior Analyst, Technology Business Research, Inc.

India and 5G

But, IIT-Madras Director Bhaskar Ramamurthi differs. The trade war should not have any impact on 5G rollout in India but the schedule will depend more on local market readiness, spectrum availability, service provider capacity building and financial position, he said. The institution is involved in an ‘Indigenous 5G Testbed’ project with a team of over 50 researchers and engineers.

A few early 5G deployments may occur even before 2020 by countries eager to showcase their technological prowess, but major commercial deployments will happen beginning 2021, he added.

Neil Shah, Partner & Research Director, IoT, Mobile & Ecosystems, Counter Point Research, said India never developed any technology incubating ecosystem, and has been three-four years behind China in development, deployment, coverage and maturity. No homegrown player has invested in R&D to develop IP in cellular network technologies to scale in the likes of Huawei, Qualcomm, Ericsson, Samsung or Nokia. Indian companies need to address this, he added.

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