India In 5G Race The Country Is Gearing Up To Embrace The Fifth Generation Technology

Since the last few years there has been a phenomenal growth in the wireless industry,

Widespread wireless technologies, increasing variety of user-friendly and multimedia-enabled terminals and wider availability of open source tools for content generation has lead encouraged user-centric networks resulting in a need for efficient network design. There has been a shift from fixed to mobile cellular telephony, resulting in Network Planning and Optimization related services coming in to sharp focus. Evolution of wireless access technology is about to reach its fourth generation. Wireless access technology have formed different evolutionary path but with a common aim related to performance and efficiency.  The First generation has fulfilled the basic mobile voice, while the Second generation has dealt with capacity and coverage. The third generation focused for higher data rate, multimedia support and spread spectrum followed by Fourth generation providing access to wide range of telecommunication services including advanced mobile services, along with a support for low to high mobility application. And now it’s all about 5G. This new generation of mobile technology is all set to gain pace. Each generation has set out to fix the flaws of its predecessor: GSM fixed the security weaknesses of analogue telephony, 3G was meant to sort out GSM’s lack of mobile data and, given it didn’t much succeed, 4G was needed to finally make consuming data less of an unpleasant experience. 5G is emerging ahead of the turn of a new decade and the next big change to hit mobile.

Nitin Bansal, head of Network Products at Ericsson India, says 5G radio access technology will be a key component of the Networked Society. The overall aim of 5G is to provide ubiquitous connectivity for any kind of device and any kind of application that may benefit from being connected. 5G networks will not be based on one specific radio-access technology. Rather, 5G is a portfolio of access and connectivity solutions addressing the demands and requirements of mobile communication beyond 2020.

Fundamentally, applications such as mobile telephony, mobile broadband and media delivery are about information for humans. In contrast, many of the new applications and use cases that drive the requirements and capabilities of 5G are about end-to-end communication between machines. To distinguish them from the more human-centric wireless-communication use cases, these applications are often termed machine-type communication (MTC).The capabilities of 5G wireless access must extend far beyond those of previous generations of mobile communication.

India in 5G race

The Indian mobile phone user will have far-reaching global impact on this transformational technology and its uses. Wireless, mobile connectivity is rapidly overtaking wired, fixed connectivity that has dominated the internet since its inception. According to the Cisco VNI Index, the number of mobile-connected devices will grow from 7 to 11 billion and mobile data traffic will grow 10-fold in the next five years. This tectonic shift towards mobility presents a unique opportunity to address the next phases of the development of the internet with mobile devices, mobile platforms and mobile applications as centerpieces.

We have gone through generations of cellular technology since the advent of 1G in the 1980s. Roughly speaking, 1G enabled connectivity for voice and was based on analog technology. 2G still catered to voice, but with digital technology. 3G was designed for data on smartphones and 4G is targeted towards mobile broadband. Throughout this evolution, increasing speeds and efficient use of spectrum was the primary objective. However as we move towards 5G and beyond, the focus needs to shift from just speeding up the wireless interface to other aspects such as: densification via integration of access methods, virtualization and cloud computing, the internet of things, and content-centric networking.

Nokia, BSNL join hands to develop 5G network in India

Nokia and state-led telco Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) partnered to accelerate the development of a 5G ecosystem in India. With this partnership, Nokia will help the transition of BSNL through Nokia’s 5G FIRST end-to-end 5G solution, including its AirScale radio access portfolio and AirFrame datacenter platform to demonstrate 5G capabilities. “This joint initiative will go a long way to help us meet the future data demands in a most cost-effective way,” Anupam Shrivastava, CMD of BSNL, said.

BSNL will leverage Nokia’s 5G-ready product portfolio to develop for both enterprise and retail customers while Nokia will help BSNL in spectrum assessment and in optimization of the same to deliver 5G. The companies will also utilize technologies such as SDN (software defined networking), Multi-access Edge Computing and cloud to help BSNL evolve and leverage the opportunities of the programmable world, an official statement said. “We will leverage our global experience in 5G-related industry projects and collaborations to enable BSNL to evolve their networks for the programmable world,” Sanjay Malik, head of India Market, Nokia, said. The move comes after Samsung partnered with Reliance Jio this week to bring 5G connectivity in India. Bharti Airtel and Nokia announced plans to reach the network evolution to 5G services.

High-level panel to meet on early rollout of 5G in India

A top panel, formed in September, 2017 by the department of telecom met to devise strategies for early deployment of 5G services in India, several people familiar with the matter said. The panel, which had representations from the industry, government and academics, aimed to develop a competitive product portfolio for 5G with an objective of targeting 50% of the Indian market and 10% of global market over the next seven years. Representatives from top internet service providers and telecom service providers, including Bharti Airtel Ltd.’s chief executive Gopal Vittal, Reliance Jio’s managing director Sanjay Mashruwala, were part of the panel and are expected to attend the meeting.

5G is the next generation of wireless access technology. It not only promises higher data capacity and speeds faster than 10 GB per second but also possesses the capacity to connect billions of devices. According to industry estimates, 5G will also bring down the cost of transmitting packets of data on the network to one-tenth of that on a 4G network. The technology is also expected to trigger progress across usages such as autonomous cars, apart from Internet of Things (IoT). For all these reasons, the government aims to deploy 5G services for consumers by 2020. The government set up the 22-member committee, chaired by telecom secretary Aruna Sundararajan, in September and tasked it with evaluating and approving road maps and action plans for the technology rollout.

The move may also provide an opportunity to the government to attempt afresh to sell certain airwaves that are ideally suited for 5G services. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, or TRAI, in August floated a consultation paper inviting views on the next auction of various spectrum bands, including 3300-3400 MHz and 3400-3600 MHz spectrum bands that are suitable for 5G mobile services. The consultation paper will be followed by an open house discussion.

India has largely played a catch-up game with the world when it comes to rolling out technologies such as 2G, 3G and 4G. The government wants to change that. 5G trials are currently being rolled out across the world. Companies such as Ericsson AB, Orange SA, Verizon Communications, Google and Samsung Electronics have shown interest in or conducted 5G trials.

The panel will focus on creating a research ecosystem for intellectual property rights development, standards development and proof of concepts through research projects, public-private partnership projects, test beds and pilot roll-outs. The government has approved a corpus of Rs500 crore for research and development in 5G, telecom minister Manoj Sinha said in September.

The department of telecommunications has approved a 5G technologies test-bed at IIT Madras, which is expected to be operational in the next six months, Morgan Stanley said in a recent note. “We will need more such test-beds in order to meet the deadline for the roll-out,” a member of the high-level panel said. The panel will also work towards creating a regulatory framework, including spectrum assignments and a start-up friendly regulatory environment. “While the current quantity of spectrum is adequate for telecom operators for now, the government will need to offer more spectrum for 5G,” a top executive of a global telecom equipment manufacturer said.

Telecom to usher in another revolution via 5G

The telecom sector is speeding up introduction of 5G network even though operators are yet to recover investments made in still-new 4G rollouts. Both operators and the authorities are keen to avoid any delays as 5G is expected to change the human machine interface. “That is why, despite not having monetized, not having taken care of all investments that have gone into 4G, everyone — operators or partners — is chasing 5G,” said Abhay Savargaonkar, director, networks, Bharti Airtel BSE 2.30  percent. He expects the industry to play a lead role in the fourth industrial revolution and is “committed to make it work.”

Competitor Reliance Jio Infocomm is in the 5G race as well. Mathew Oommen, president of network, global strategy and service development, said India needs to build a grid ecosystem and create its own platforms of intelligence to leverage emerging 5G opportunities, thus making a difference in everything connected digital world. “5G is just the beginning. I see opportunity is de-segregating commodity hardware from software, wherein lies the opportunity for India to create digital giants of intelligence. Some feel carriers should segregate network from operations and pool it to create network companies. “I believe the endgame, if we have to provide affordable services, would be formation of network companies that can produce capacities to offer operators without discrimination, except in Passive infrastructure should also be shared so as to create investment capabilities, which will be required for upcoming 5G networks.” he said

Big role for government 

Operators emphasized that the huge change 5G will bring to people’s lives can only take place if authorities provide more spectrum, make it easier to lay fiber optics and generally help in building capacity.  Oommen said India needs to put in place top-end cloud infrastructure and create a spawning ground for the homegrown Alibabas, Amazons or Blockchains, and even an artificial machine learning platform. The Jio networks president noted that while the US and China already own a good set of digital applications, services and associated data, the opportunity is not lost for India.

Both Airtel and Jio are investing in massive multiple input-multiple output (MIMO) technology, which increases base station capacity 5-7 times and cuts interference substantially, boosting transmission signal to devices. Since speed is one of the most critical aspects of 5G, operators expect the highspeed LTE band 40 to be included in the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). This, along with availability of more bands such as 700 MHz, will help develop the ecosystem and give operators access to spectrum and capacity.

3GPP is a collaboration of telecommunications associations that looks into various standards of networks, of which 5G is one. Savargaonkar also said, “Fiber penetration in India is too low. It is important the government supports us in making regulations so right of way (ROW) permissions become easy.” He sought ROW permissions for laying down fiber cables along the same lines as that for electricity or water pipelines. The quantum they consume and slots they take,” said Akhil Gupta, chairman, Bharti Infratel.

The Indian market, emergence of change beyond 5G

It’s a known fact that the Indian telecom sector has been immensely competitive over the past few years. It’s primarily been a voice market, with some data consumption. But over the past 12 months, India has gone from being among the leading markets to the top spot. “The average data consumption per user per month stands at about 4GB. This is higher than the global average. In fact, it is the highest in the world,” Nunzio Mirtillo, Head of South East Asia, Oceania and India market for Ericsson says.

He’s quick to add that currently, the more data a telco provides, the more it is consumed. That’s in line with what’s happened in other markets as well. In effect, a telco needs the latest technology to maximize available spectrum that enables the telco to offer as much data as possible to the consumer.

With such a vast appetite for data, and a young 4G VoLTE market, the country is already talking about 5G. Mirtillo says, “We’re not moving our investment from 4G to 5G.” He says Ericsson will increase its investment in 5G. “But we’re also increasing our investment in 4G,” he says. He’s aware that they need to invest in 4G to stay in this market, and adds that they are doing so, and will continue to do so.

5G and India, for consumers and operators

Whether or not India is ready for 5G isn’t the question according to Nunzio Mirtillo, Head of South East Asia, Oceania and India market for Ericsson. India is absolutely ready for 5G. “From a market demand point of view, absolutely yes, because the demand is in the market. From a technology point of view, I don’t think India needs anything,” he adds. What needs to happen now is that the business will need to overcome challenges. When India moved from GSM to 3G and then from 3G to 4G it wasn’t a problem, but the move to 5G isn’t just about radio.

The faster an operator can provide data, the faster users will move. So operators need the technology to deliver faster data rates, and yet at the same time, there’s need for handsets. Current 4G handsets will not be compatible with 5G. However, newer 5G handsets will be backward compatible with 4G.

For an operator, there lies greater opportunity in 5G. According to Mirtillo, “Latency will be improved, network response time will be reduced. You can generate up to 1000 times the traffic. You can generate much more traffic per user. But this technology enhancement will basically give you the possibility to go for use cases that aren’t possible today.”

He gives an example of fix wireless access turning into a sound business case with 5G, if not with 4G. He also adds that mobile operators could “address huge scale or massive machine type communication. Typically, you get four use cases. One is mobile broadband announcement. Everyone understands we need more and 5G will bring more. Two, you will have fixed wireless access for places where it is not convenient to reach directly to home with fiber till the end. Third, you will be capable of managing massive IoT business case with very good battery life. Lastly, the critical mass with high bandwidth, very low latency use case like automation like a car, or working in the mine or remote surgery.”

He believes that if the service provider taps into the enterprise market like manufacturing, agriculture, healthcare and transport “they can change the way these sectors work. They can introduce new business models. They can provide the service for that. That will be an addition of $27 million to the existing business, which is projected to be around 60 billion in 2020-23. And then if you scale up, this will be an additional business opportunity of around $90 billion for the service provider.”

Mirtillo believes in the capability of the global standard in ensuring the success of 5G. He says, “Usually, the reason for the success of 4G, 3G or GSM has been the global standard. And what is happening with 5G is exactly the same, when you have a global standard. What has happened in the last 20 years is that the cost has continuously come down. Whether it is the terminal cost, the cost of GB, or whatever costs are associated. So 5G is a leapfrogging technology. We enable the use of spectrum in a more efficient way. With 4G the cost of GB is going down, and with 5G we can continue that curve.”

He adds, “The price point will continue to go down. We believe that in 2023, basically 1 billion people will get access to smartphones which means all India will be connected with very high bandwidth. Which means Digital India, or Make in India will be a reality because of this accessibility. And 5G as we’ve been saying at the beginning it’s always kind of small and then it will scale up. I have no doubts because in India or China where we have the majority of people in, the business case is there. So it might start in the U.S. and here and there. Not in one particular market. And India is a big piece of the world. You can say that in a different way – I mean the world without India will be a different world.”

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