How 5G is crucial as a force multiplier in modernisation of India, $30 bn opportunity for IT firms
In India, aspiring towards high-technology defence manufacturing, EVs, semiconductors, advanced robotics, drones, 5G cannot wait. It could well find prominent mention in the Union Budget on 1 February
Air India had cancelled several flights to major airports in the US as America's telecom companies rolled out its 5G commercial service. This is because the C Band frequencies allocated there can interfere with altimeter readings on the Air India aircraft which use a frequency very close to the C Band. Rectification processes involving improved altimeters that won't misread are being put in place before the flights resume.
India is also on the brink of launching its own commercial 5G services. Trials in several cities have been completed. These include cities and their satellites such as Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Gurugram, Chandigarh, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, Jamnagar, Hyderabad, Pune, Lucknow and Gandhinagar.
It could well find prominent mention in the Union Budget on 1 February 2022. More so, because traditional budgeting with yesteryear possibilities is not going to give us the quantum leaps necessary to catch up to the $5 trillion in GDP target by 2025. Particularly after the expensive vaccination programmes and the pandemic caused multiple stops and starts to the economy since early 2020.
As a force multiplier in the modernisation of India, 5G is crucial.
It is a $30 billion opportunity for Indian IT firms, the biggest after Cloud Computing. So the sooner we get started the better. In India, aspiring towards high-technology defence manufacturing, EVs, semiconductors, advanced robotics, drones, 5G cannot wait.
We may have to import the necessary hardware at first, after banning Chinese products, but will no doubt be able to make it indigenously soon enough, perhaps in a joint venture, so as to avoid greenfield delays.
Organisations such as IIT Bombay, IIT Delhi, IIT Hyderabad, IIT Madras, IIT Kanpur, IISC Bangalore, Society for Applied Microwave Electronics Engineering and Research (SAMEER) and Centre of Excellence in Wireless Technology (CEWIT), have been working on 5G launch oriented research and testing since 2018.
The 5G auctions are likely to be a significant addition to government revenue now that the scams of the UPA era are behind us. The government's TRAI is working hard on the pricing. The DoT helmed auctions could take place in July-August 2022, and then the roll out in the 13 cities already scouted out should happen by December 2022, after the street architecture is put in place. Network expansion countrywide could however take till 2024.
Despite expectedly higher initial pricing, its adoption by the public is likely to be much faster than the six years it took 3G and the four years in the case of 4G. If 4G has made phone calls, messaging, surfing and streaming nationwide ubiquitous, the expected super-speeds of 5G, with a data speed a hundred times faster than 4G, is quite hard to imagine.
And yet, in a little while, not just India, but the whole world will take it and the things it enables for granted. Some estimates say the full impact of 5G globally will take till 2035, but others expect further developments on 5G and then 6G and more to have come in much before that. But 5G is likely, in the interim, to support over $13 trillion in global economic output. It will lead to millions of new jobs, some 23 million globally.
5G will be offered in three bands, with low, medium and high frequency spectrum. The lowest band spectrum has the advantage of the greatest coverage area, while at 100 Mbps, it is not bad for speed and data exchange either. The mid and high band spectrum have reduced coverage area but much higher speeds. At the high end, its internet speed will be as high as 20 Gpbs. Contrast this with just 1 Gbps in the 4G networks.
Telecom providers such as Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and even the till recently financially troubled Vodafone Idea (in which the government is going to buy a one-third share), have been working on the India trials along with Nokia and Ericsson. MTNL has also been allocated a testing spectrum, but little is known on its progress.
Reliance Jio has developed a 100 percent home-grown and comprehensive 5G system which is fully cloud native and digitally managed. In trials it connected drones on its indigenous network. Artificial Intelligence (AI) has the potential to enable quick changes in the 5G networks. Movie-makers and creative people can create 4K/8K videos, click high resolution 108 MP+ photos.
5G has already been rolled out in over 60 countries.
Apart from consumer usage via new 5G enabled smartphones, 5G is designed to connect machines, objects, and devices. It will deliver a vastly enhanced mobile broadband, great video-conferencing, plus a massive Internet of Things (IoT), via embedded sensors with lesser data rates, power and mobility concerns. It will enable mission critical services useful for defence related equipment and armaments, for the space-age work being done by ISRO. It will be spectacular for remote healthcare, education, precision agriculture, digitised logistics, safer transportation in civil aviation, railways, ships, land -based transport and the automotive industry. It is reliable, and has ultra-low latency. It will support future services not known presently with its forward compatibility features, and the aforementioned AI.
By 2025, 5G networks will cover a third of the world's population with South Korea, China, and the US leading in terms of both deployment and further R&D based development. India’s 1.40 billion people cannot afford to be left behind. TRAI is expected to submit its pricing proposals for spectrum by March 2022 to DoT.
The writer is a Delhi-based commentator on political and economic affairs. The views expressed are personal.