India’s 5G Leap

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    • India’s 5G leap is about powering tomorrow. 
      • DoT has allowed trials in rural and urban areas of Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Pune and Hyderabad, and Gujarat.

    What is 5G technology and how is it different?

    • Latest upgrade in the long-term evolution (LTE): 5G or fifth generation is the latest upgrade in the long-term evolution (LTE) mobile broadband networks.
    • Range of spectrums and their limitations: 5G mainly works in 3 bands, namely low, mid and high-frequency spectrum all of which have their own uses as well as limitations.
      • The low band spectrum has shown great promise in terms of coverage and speed of internet and data exchange, the maximum speed is limited to 100 Mbps this means that while telecoms 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 specialised needs of the industry.
      • The mid-band spectrum, on the other hand, offers higher speeds compared to the low band but has limitations in terms of coverage area and penetration of signals.
      • The high-band spectrum offers the highest speed of all three bands, but has extremely limited coverage and signal penetration strength.

    India’s stand in the 5G technology race

    • Initial step: India had, in 2018, planned to start 5G services as soon as possible, with an aim to capitalise on the better network speeds and strength that the technology promised.
    • Players involved: All the three private telecom players, Reliance Jio Infocomm, Bharti Airtel and VI, have been urging the DoT to lay out a clear road map of spectrum allocation and 5G frequency bands so that they would be able to plan the rollout of their services accordingly.
      • On the other hand, Reliance Jio plans to launch an indigenously built 5G network for the country.
    • Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN) Alliance: India’s 5G network, however, is getting a local touch with the emergence of platforms like the Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN) Alliance and the partnerships that Indian telecom companies have inked with local and global partners.
      • The O-RAN Alliance was founded in 2018 by some of the biggest telecom firms in the world AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, China Mobile, NTT Docomo and Orange to shape the RAN industry towards more open, virtualized and fully interoperable mobile networks.
      • It is now a worldwide community that includes mobile network operators, vendors, and research and academic institutions.
      • Airtel is a board member of the O-RAN Alliance and TCS is a member.
    • Next-generation 5G stack: Jio has indigenously developed the next-generation 5G stack, which will make the technology affordable and accessible.
      • A protocol stack refers to a group of protocols that are interoperable.
      • Jio has collaborated with global technology firms to develop an open and interoperable interface-compliant architecture-based 5G solution.
    • Nokia: is producing 5G equipment at its factory in Chennai. It was the first to make the 5G New Radio (the global standard for a unified 5G) in the country. It has also started manufacturing massive Multiple Input Multiple Output (mMIMO) solutions.
      • MIMO is a radio communications technology used to multiply radio link capacity using multiple transmissions and receiving antennas.
      • This helps in improving data quality and radio transmission capacity.

     

    Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN)

    • Open radio access network (RAN) is a term for industry-wide standards for RAN interfaces that support interoperation between vendors’ equipment.
    • The flexible and scalable architecture of O-RAN will create new opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses.
    •  O-RAN allows you to use standard, ‘templateised’, readily available off-the-shelf hardware and then put software on top of it and use that as a part of the network.
    • Both Airtel and Jio are working actively on O-RAN.
    • One big advantage that O-RAN architecture brings is the scalability of the network. So, instead of investing heavily in infrastructures like network towers and masts, telecom operators can use O-RAN small cells fitted on the existing infrastructure like light poles, and then scale it up as and when required.

    5Gi

    • 5Gi is basically a Made in India 5G standard created through a joint collaboration between IIT Hyderabad and Madras (Chennai).
    • 5Gi uses millimetre wave technology to provide high-speed internet connectivity.
    • 5Gi offers more range at a lower frequency, which is the opposite of 5G.
    • It can play a big role in giving rural India access to a faster telecom network.
    • “The greatest advantage of this technology is that it increases coverage to nearly 6km.
    • This is sufficient to cover 95 per cent of India’s villages since they lie within 6km of BharatNet PoPs (points of presence).
    • This also reduces the number of base stations required to provide rural coverage and thus the cost of total deployment will come down significantly.

    What is the global progress on 5G?

    • Global telecom companies: More than governments, global telecom companies have started building 5G networks and rolling it out to their customers on a trial basis.
    • USA: In countries like the US, companies such as AT&T, T-mobile, and Verizon have taken the lead when it comes to rolling out commercial 5G for their users.
    • China: In other countries such as China, some of the telcos such as China Unicom had started 5G trials as early as 2018, and have since rolled out the commercial services for users.
    • South Korea: South Korean company Samsung, 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.
    • Singapore: had planned four 5G networks, two comprehensive 5G networks and two others with smaller and limited coverage, the reason being the high cost in the deployment of fibre cables and the scarcity of 5G airwaves.

    Benefits/Advantages

    • Artificial intelligence: The new generation mobile network has the transformative potential to provide a wide range of benefits to the Indian economy, which when enhanced with artificial intelligence provides a new dimension to connected and autonomous systems.
    • Shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution: The fifth-generation mobile network, or 5G, is the next level of mobile network that will shape the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industrial 4.0, quality of service delivery, innovation, etc by facilitating smarter and developing societies.
    • Hyperconnectivity: The 5G network promises the possibility of having a hyper-interconnected environment to reach the point of having the much desired “smart cities”. The correct performance of these new dynamics will depend on the bandwidth of 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT).
    • Socio-economic benefits: This may allow citizens and communities to get socio-economic benefits and comforts delivered by a well-advanced, more data-intensive, digital economy.
    • Broad areas to be benefitted: The uses of 5G in India may encompass enhanced outdoor and indoor broadband, the Internet of things, smart cities, smart agriculture, energy monitoring, remote monitoring, smart grids, telehealth, industrial automation, remote patient monitoring and industrial automation to name some of the areas.
    • Process optimization: It is also expected to revolutionize areas such as medicine (remote operations, for example), and traffic management and autonomous vehicles, as well as its implementation in the construction sector to optimize resources and reduce risks.
    • Speed Upgrades: Each wireless network generation has reflected a significant increase in speed, and the benefits of 5G—the fifth generation of cellular network technology—will push far beyond 4G LTE. Predicted speeds of up to 10 Gbps represent up to a 100x increase compared to 4G.
    • Low Latency: Latency measures how long a signal takes to go from its source to its receiver, and then back again. One of the goals for each wireless generation has been to reduce latency. New 5G networks will have even lower latency than 4G LTE, with the round-trip transmission of data taking less than five milliseconds.
    • Increased Bandwidth: The combination of increased speed and network capacity on 5G networks will create the potential for larger amounts of data to be transmitted than was possible with 4G LTE networks.
    • Revenue: Commercial 5G networks began to be deployed in 2020 and are expected to reach 12% of world mobile connections (1.1 billion) and generate revenues up to the U.S. $1.3 trillion by 2025 for operators.

    Issues/challenges

    • Lack of flow of cash and adequate capital: One big hurdle, however, is the lack of flow of cash and adequate capital with at least two of the three players, namely Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea.
    • Poor financial condition of telecom companies: the Supreme Court of India’s ruling on the dues being sought by the Department of Telecommunications (estimated to be more than RS. 90,000 crore) has further exacerbated the financial condition of telecom companies.
    • Less number of players: It is no wonder then that the number of telecom operators has come down to a handful from around 15 a few years back.
    • High investments required: The trial run of 5G in developed countries such as Japan and the United States reveals that the investment is very high, ranging from $6 million per small city to $60 million per large or densely populated city.
    • Independent economic assessment: it is imperative to undertake an independent economic assessment, city wise, beginning with the metro cities, to assess the commercial viability for 5G deployment in India.
    • Very expensive: As the deployment of 5G network is expensive, both the Central and State governments may need to consider measures that stimulate fibre investment, attract investment through public-private partnerships (PPPs) and facilitate investment funds on a nominal interest basis.
    • Tax issues: The Government also needs to address information asymmetry and negative externalities through laws and regulations/taxes and subsidies.
    • Low fiberization footprint: We need to upgrade fibre connectivity across India, which at present connects only 30% of India’s telecom towers. For an efficient 5G India launch and adoption, this number has to double.
    • ‘Make in India’ hardware challenge: The ban on certain foreign telecom OEMs upon which most of our CSPs depend means the country needs to encourage and boost its local 5G hardware manufacturing at an unprecedented rate if it needs to realize the 5G India dream.
    • Choosing the optimal 5G technology standard: The tussle between the home-grown 5Gi standard and the global 3GPP standard needs to be concluded in order to hasten 5G technology implementation. While 5Gi brings obvious benefits, it also increases 5G India launch costs and interoperability issues for telcos –something we can’t afford right now. 

    Way Forward

    • The immediate priority for India: will be in identifying end-users and population to be covered, analysis of the existing network and operators, identification of cities for the 5G roll out, working out an investment model, and minimisation of the digital risk and pricing based on the externalities and usage of various sectors.
    • Cost-benefit analysis: The deployment of 5G in India needs to be carefully planned after a cost-benefit analysis by independent experts which will create a level-playing field through market mechanisms such as facilitating, simulating, auctioning, ensuring competition, functioning markets, etc.
    • Spectrum road map: Once a case is made for 5G, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) may consider preparing a foolproof spectrum road map with a predictable renewal process which will compensate for the huge investment required for deployment and ensure coverage.
    • A level-playing field should be created for all telecom companies: with more focus on companies that have the experience of ensuring telecom networks to remote areas and the potential to provide affordable coverage.
    • Sharing of the available spectrum: to maximise its efficient use especially in rural areas, and spectrum allocation procedures that favour investment, need to be considered.
    • Reducing spectrum charges: Steps such as a moratorium on dues, redefining adjusted gross revenue, and reducing spectrum charges will help all telecom companies, more so Airtel and Vodafone Idea who face precarious financial situations.
    • 100% foreign direct investment: Further, allowing 100% foreign direct investment in the telecom sector under the automatic route along with these policy reforms augurs well for the sector to attract investment.
    • Relief package: Implementation of 5G requires huge investment and the relief package is a welcome step.

    Source: TH