Opinion

Why this is the right time for 5G in India

Rajen Vagadia | Updated on April 14, 2020 Published on April 14, 2020

When compared to 4G, 5G offers much higher capacity, very high speeds and better security. By delaying its rollout, India stands the risk of missing out on the first flush of the 5G powered innovation cycle

Recently, I read about a Canadian start-up that had predicted the Covid-19 outbreak a few days even before WHO could announce it. It had even forewarned a few cities around the world. Its algorithms — that used a combination of machine learning, natural language processing, artificial intelligence, and data mining — were able to find “a needle in a haystack”, said an article in Mandarin talking about a mystery viral infection in China. It then correlated various sources, information on flights and transport in and out of that city to provide an early warning to the countries where this could potentially spread.

Would this have been possible two decades ago? Perhaps, no. However, what the use of different technologies, to transmit and process massive amount information seamlessly, brought to my mind was the fact that connectivity isn’t a luxury anymore. Today, widespread access to data, along with speed in decision-making, is getting increasingly important and therein lies the promise of 5G.

Why India and why 5G?

The evolution of 5G is based on multiple pillars — it starts with enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) to provide the much-needed capacity for delivery of high-speed data to the masses. eMBB is the most important building block of 5G as it also solves the basic need of capacity. Subsequently, ultra-reliable low latency and massive IoT provide the ability to connect millions of things beyond just the smartphones and try to integrate them as a connected whole. That’s where lies the future of industries, ports, manufacturing workplaces, logistics, healthcare, etc. When compared to 4G, 5G offers much higher capacity, ultra-low latency, very high speeds and better security. In fact, 5G can even offer fibre-like speeds, wirelessly, on millimeter wave frequency.

There are several other points to consider, which are extremely relevant for India:

Data consumption: India’s is the second biggest smartphone market in the world, leading to a meteoritic rise of data consumption — from 20 million terabytes in 2017 to 55 million terabytes in 2019. India consumes more than 11 GB/user/month — the highest in the world. Further, we continue to add broadband subscribers every month.

Existing LTE infrastructure will struggle to address the growing demand for data, leading to perpetually choked networks and resulting in poor customer experience. New macro cell-site rollout is virtually impossible. As such, network resources are strained with significant impact on consumer experience since the 4G spectrum and infrastructure can do only so much.

Lower fibre penetration: There is no practical way fibre connectivity can be enhanced quickly. This poses a serious challenge to back-haul capacities of the macro towers.

Industry 4.0: The Fourth Industrial Revolution (aka Industry 4.0) is powered by emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, Internet of Things, Edge Computing, which need 5G to be effective. These, and such similar services, are required to raise additional revenue streams for the carriers which are already stressed with financial burdens.

Smart cities: 5G powers the technology driving smart cities. As India moves ahead with its Smart City vision, it must leverage 5G to ensure that the underlying technology remains relevant for a longer time.

As such, the case for immediate roll out of 5G networks in India is compelling. It is no longer a choice but a pre-requisite for the country’s growth and development.

India’s last mile connectivity

Let’s begin by focusing on 5G’s mmWave, one of the two key frequencies currently being used internationally. mmWave offers a great option as replacement of fibre for the last-mile connectivity. Carriers can use this to de-congest networks. De-congestion of urban networks is possible with sub6 and mmWave, and homes can be enabled with fibre-like speeds facilitating better connectivity for smart homes, surveillance, multi gaming, better streaming services, etc.

Rural broadband can be expedited with mmWave deployment for last-mile connectivity between gram panchayats and the villages, which otherwise would have to be connected via fibre. Cost per bit of data can go down as low as one-tenth of that on 4G, helping improve telco bottomlines.

Further, as India sets its sights on greater economic growth and accelerated development, it needs 5G to fully leverage the possibilities of Industry 4.0. From smart factories to smart shop floors, smart education to smart retail, every sector stands to benefit from 5G. With 5G, India can not only realise the full potential of smart infrastructure but also build on it to derive greater value.

For example, a smart surveillance system powered by 5G can not only analyse camera feeds to identify problems but also incorporate cutting edge security measures such as non-intrusive facial recognition to identify troublemakers or suspects in pertinent cases. Such a surveillance system will greatly enhance the country’s current security measures and even help reduce crime significantly.

Given this context, we must consider the impact of delayed 5G implementation. According to our 5G Economy study, the world will realise the full economic benefits of 5G by 2035 as it drives positive transformation across industries, potentially producing up to $12 trillion worth of goods and services.

The economic impact of 5G in India is likely to be $1 trillion. By delaying 5G rollout, India stands the risk of missing out on the first flush of the 5G powered innovation cycle. The 9,000+ strong tech start-ups that thrive on innovation for the world will have to restrict their ideas to 4G implementation rendering them redundant for a world that is already moving on to 5G.

5G smartphones based on our Snapdragon platforms, are already being launched in India along with simultaneous launches across the world. Although the current products are focussed on premium and high-end products, we are working to bring 5G to almost every tier within the next year. Throughout 2020, we will drive 5G roadmap to lower price-points to enable affordable 5G devices. Strong OEM adoption coupled with availability across multiple smartphone tiers will deliver the much-needed scale to drive affordability.

The goal has been not only to make the transition to 5G affordable but also safe for users. 5G uses distributed architectures and larger bandwidths to enable reduced latencies and scale to enable massive IoT. While doing this, the transmit powers of base stations and UEs are still governed by the same regulations that apply to other cellular technologies and as such, make it as safe as the existing cellular technologies.

India is set to join the 5G revolution soon with the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) preparing to open the spectrum in 2020. Telecom operators in the country are getting ready for 5G trials. The country needs to explore all three spectrum band categories (millimeter wave, mid-band and sub-6 airwave) in order to realise the full benefits of 5G. If India does not want to be left behind, which has happened in all the previous ‘G’ transitions, it is crucial to roll-out 5G and play a pivotal role in defining what the world will use — to grow technologically and economically.

The writer is Vice-President and President India, Qualcomm India and SAARC

Published on April 14, 2020

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