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View from India: Opportunities abound as Modi launches 5G

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5G services have been launched in India, the world’s fifth-largest economy. 5G is projected to fast-track the country’s digital transformation.

Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi launched 5G services and inaugurated the sixth edition of India Mobile Congress (IMC) 2022 in Delhi on Saturday (October 1).

The potential speed, power and connectivity of 5G is well known. E-health, connected vehicles and mobile cloud gaming are among the key takeaways of 5G. But here is something unique: PM Modi took a remote test drive of a car in Europe using the 5G technology that he unveiled during the weekend. The test drive happened in Delhi. If we step back and visualise the remote drive, it seems thrilling - but it goes beyond the ‘wow’ factor.

The fact that 5G can be used for remote experiences may unlock opportunities unknown hitherto. It’s not without reason that 5G is hailed as a life-changing technology. It needs to be harnessed for its ability to connected people from anywhere at exponential speed. This remote connectivity could be used for knowledge dissemination and safe lives from afar.

Modi described 5G as a knock on the doors of a new era in the country. 5G is the beginning of an infinite sky of opportunities; it is a revolution. “From exporting zero mobile phones in 2014, today we have become a mobile phone exporting country worth thousands of crores. New India will not remain a mere consumer of technology, but India will play an active role in the development and implementation of that technology,” he said.

Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport, for example, is now 5G-ready. What probably made the historic event realistic is that the three major telecommunication services companies of the country - Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio, Sunil Bharti Mittal’s Airtel, and Kumar Mangalam Birla’s Vodafone Idea - demonstrated one use case each in the presence of the PM.

For instance, Reliance Jio showcased how 5G can give a push to education. Reliance Jio connected a teacher from a school in Mumbai, with students in different locations in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Odisha. This demonstrated how 5G will facilitate education by bringing teachers closer to students, regardless of the physical distance between them. The students’ excitement was palpable as they interacted with the PM. “Every action and policy of the government is skillfully crafted to propel India, towards that goal. Steps taken to fast-track India’s march into the 5G era provide compelling proof of our Prime Minister’s determination,” said Mukesh Ambani, chairman, Reliance. The Jio 5G network aims to cover the remotest corners of India by next December.

In the Airtel demo, students from Dankaur, Uttar Pradesh, learnt about the solar system with the help of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). What made it engaging is that a student shared this experience with the PM by appearing on the dais through a hologram. Bharti Airtel announced that it will launch the 5G network in eight cities, including Delhi, Mumbai, Varanasi and Bangalore. “With the advent of 5G, I’m sure that the country will add many more unicorns in the world,” said Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman, Bharti Enterprise, in a clarion call for industries and start-ups to explore how 5G can be brought to everyday life.

Vodafone Idea's test case demonstrated the safety of workers in a tunnel under construction as part of the Delhi Metro. A digital twin of the tunnel was created on the dais. Modi took a live demo from the dais to monitor the work in real-time through utilising VR and AI. “We will see limitless potential for 5G development and use cases in the years to come,” added Kumar Mangalam Birla, chairman, Aditya Birla Group.

With these demos, it is possible to gauge what could happen with 5G. Legacy infrastructure could make way for 5G-led operations. Smart cities, traffic management, education and healthcare could be among the early adopters of 5G. Real-time monitoring of disasters, precision agriculture and a reduction of human intervention in precarious industrial operations such as in deep mines and offshore activities could be other benefits. A skilled workforce is also required to execute 5G jobs in sectors such as AR, VR and the Internet of Things (IoT). Individuals need to be equipped with a fresh set of skills to make the best of the economic opportunities emerging from end-to-end 5G devices.

As for the basics such as the SIM card, the good news is that the next-generation network service doesn’t need a new SIM and can work on any phone that is 5G-enabled. In practical terms, it can happen once the network is launched in the city.

Going back in time, when India launched 2G, 3G and 4G services, it was dependent on other countries. This is not the case with 5G. Mobile manufacturing facilities have increased from two in 2014 to over 200 now. Consequently, the cost of handsets has reduced. It has also opened doors for overseas shipping of phones worth crores of rupees as against zero exports a few years ago.

5G’s goal is to progressively cover the country over the next few years and this could accelerate the country’s digital transformation. By way of explanation, the country’s digital journey is based on four pillars such as the price of the device, digital connectivity, cost of data, and the idea of digital first. The government plans to provide Internet for all and 5G is capable of providing ultra-high speed Internet.

It is also supported by the fact that cost of data in India is among the lowest in the world. This has come down from 300 Indian rupees per gigabyte (GB) to about 10 rupees per GB. An average consumer is using 14 GB data every month. It would have cost 4,200 rupees in 2014; today it’s available for just 200 rupees. Citizens are saving around 4,000 rupees a month for the same data consumption today.

Apart from that, the government has taken a lead by facilitating digital payments and promoting citizen-centric delivery service through an app. Whether it is about farmers or small shopkeepers, the government has given them a channel to meet their daily needs through an app.

“Technology has truly now become democratised,” Modi said. Digital payments have increased. “Today, whether we have small traders, small entrepreneurs, local artists and artisans, 'Digital India' has given a platform, a market to everyone. You go to a local market or vegetable market and see, even a small street vendor will tell you do 'UPI' (Unified Payments Interface) in absence of cash”.

Though 5G services are now being rolled out commercially, the country has already begun work on 6G, which could reach fruition by the end of the decade. Perhaps the telephony service may ring a bell to signal unchartered avenues.

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