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View from India: 5G promises ‘leapfrog’ opportunities

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The cumulative economic impact of 5G on India could reach $1tr by 2035. The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is paving the way for this upcoming growth by issuing guidelines for 5G trials across all available spectrum bands.

Around 400MHz (megahertz) of radio waves are likely to be allocated towards the 5G trials. The trial licence comes with a uniform fee of Rs 5,000. The validity, however, varies. Depending on the purpose, its duration will range between three months and two years. Apart from telecom operators, those working in research and development (R&D), manufacturing and even academia are likely to be part of the trials.

For 5G service trials, the quantum of spectrum as may be necessary and/or can be justified to demonstrate technological capabilities. For example, typical values may be up to 100MHz in the 3.5GHz (gigahertz) band, 400MHz in the 26GHz band and other potential millimetre bands, as indicated in the guidelines.

The Government of India (GoI) intends to conduct a spectrum auction for 5G services by the end of 2019. This auction will open out channels for the commercial services that 5G technology offers.

As the next generation of cellular communications technology, 5G’s evolutionary and revolutionary services can have a deep impact on India. By unfolding new economic opportunities and societal benefits, this wireless technology can be transformative. It can help the country leapfrog the traditional barriers to development as well as advance the ‘Digital India’ vision. 

While 5G trials have been announced in the media this week, the groundwork for 5G has already begun. This is evident from a 2018 report titled 'Making India 5G Ready'. A GoI-led steering committee has presented the report of the 5G High-Level Forum.

The report has chalked out priority areas for 5G in the Indian context, beginning with deployment. It’s important to roll out 5G networks early and efficiently to maximize the value offered by this new technology. A template for this technology needs to be created. 5G’s deployment requires enabling standardised technologies and networks. These include IoT devices; millimetric band; network function virtualisation (NFV); network slicing (NS); MIMO; software defined networks (SDN); distributed or edge cloud computing, and artificial intelligence and advanced analytics. 

India’s industrial and R&D capacity in the design and intellectual property (IP) dimensions of 5G needs to be put to use. The third aspect is manufacturing, whose base needs to be expanded to facilitate semiconductor fabrication as well as assembly and test plants. 

5G requires a robust ecosystem for a number of reasons. The most obvious is that it is the next generation of mobile communications technology. It will supplement the 2G, 3G and 4G mobile networks currently deployed in India and will add evolutionary and revolutionary services. That’s not all. This frontier technology will connect multiple new devices including machines, sensors, actuators, vehicles, robots and drones to support a much larger range of applications and services. Seen as a whole, it will not only be an economic growth driver, but will also encourage innovation, R&D and patents. 

Making 5G affordable and inclusive being the priority for the government, India has the big opportunity for innovation and to lead the world in ‘inclusive 5G’ technology.

For its part, GoI has launched a programme titled ‘Building an End-to-End 5G Test Bed’ to advance innovation and research in 5G. This three-year programme began in March 2018, with a budget authorisation of Rs 2,240 million. The programme is operational in educational institutes such as the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras; Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Hyderabad; Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi; Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur; Centre of Excellence in Wireless Technology (CEWIT); Society for Applied Microwave Electronics Engineering & Research (SAMEER) and Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore.  

This programme will facilitate proof-of-concept 5G prototypes compliant with the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) standards. Academia-technology companies will collaborate to realise this vision. Work has already begun. Ericsson installed the first public-access 5G test bed at IIT Delhi in July 2018 for developing applications in the broadband and low-latency areas, providing access to the industry and institutions to work on India-specific usage scenarios and applications. The industry is encouraged to take the lead and establish more public test beds in the country.

Another development is that DoT and Telecommunications Standards Development Society, India (TSDSI) in collaboration with the IITs, have been successful in getting the large-cell low mobility (LMLC) use case accepted in the international mobile communications (IMT) 2020 requirements. LMLC reflects the needs of rural India and other similar countries. TSDSI is currently working with 3GPP to include specifications in Release 15 standard that support the LMLC use case.

All these efforts are to make 5G accessible and find mainstream usage. As per the report, 5G will enable the country to leapfrog the traditional barriers to development. 

Once that happens, 5G will be prevalent across services by 2024. It also means that 5G applications will give rise to innovative solutions. The outcome, as expected, will extend to wireless services whose business models will give a value-add to industrial, commercial, educational, healthcare, agricultural, financial and social sectors.

What does 5G mean to India? With over 300 million people in the Indian middle class living in urban areas, a variety of 5G business models for new services are likely to be successful. However, the economically weaker sections of the population will need special help to benefit from 5G technologies. Clearly, it is this segment of population living in smaller towns and villages that require special attention from India’s 5G initiatives.

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