India’s tryst with 5G

Every successive generation of cellular mobile telephony has drastically increased the data speed, from 384kbps in 2G to 56 Mbps in 3G and 1Gbps in 4G.


What is 5G?

  • 5G is the next generation of mobile standards being defined by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) – a specialised agency of the United Nations for information and communication technologies responsible for allocation of global radio spectrum and development of technical standards.
  • Along with high data rate, 5G will also reduce latency, save energy, and enable massive device connectivity, paving the way for next-generation applications such as autonomous vehicles, smart homes and cities, and massive machine-to-machine communications for industries.
  • 5G – also dubbed as a game-changer in mobile telecommunications – is ready for full-scale commercial deployment by 2020.

5G Technology –

5G networks will have the requisite data speed and capacity to support massive machine-to-machine communications as well as low-latency and high-reliability services, essential for time-critical applications such as self-driving cars. They also come with increased security, stability and reliability challenges.

The three main technology categories underpinning 5G deployment are –

  • Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) can enable high user mobility, especially under scenarios requiring high data rates across a wide coverage area or ultra-high speed connection such as on trains or in thickly populated areas. It can also support Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality services.
  • Massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC) can support a very large number of connected devices, such as in the case of Internet of Things (IoT), with varying requirements of quality of service and located in a small area such as an industry or a production facility. This enables high density of connectivity (around one million connections per square kilometre) for smart cities, smart power grids, smart industries, etc.
  • Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC) lays down stringent requirements on latency, which is as low as one millisecond (compared to 50 milliseconds for 4G LTE), as well as reliability in terms of packet loss of better than one in 10,000 packets. Enabling communications in mission critical applications, this technology finds applications in robotics and autonomous vehicles.

How will it be different?

  • Traditionally, 2G and 3G mobile networks relied on microwave wireless backhaul to connect cell sites with the nearest switching centre. With increasing data flow, 4G LTE introduced IP-based connectivity, replacing copper- or microwave-based cell sites with optical fibre.
  • 5G applications and use-cases will generate immense amount of data, and therefore, one of the fundamental requirements for timely and effective 5G deployment is optical fibre based strong backhaul infrastructure.

Is India 5G Ready?

  • India, with the second largest mobile phone subscriber base globally, has also joined the race for 5G – notwithstanding the delayed adoption of previous generations of mobile networks. The commercial launch of 3G services took place in Japan in 2001, but arrived in India only in December 2008. 4G roll-out in 2012 came three years after the first commercial launch in 2009.
  • Like its predecessors, 5G is also likely to rest upon either technology imports or equipment made by foreign vendors in India. While hopping onto the 5G train, India has to bridge significant infrastructure gaps and work out economic benefits for the consumer interest in 5G services.
  • India will have to make a quantum leap in optical fibre penetration for 5G deployment. At present, with approximately 1.5 million kilometres of optical fibre cables, under 25 per cent of the cellular network towers have optical fibre backhaul, the remaining rely on microwave backhaul. The sheer lack of utility ducts along roads/highways means escalated costs and high turnaround time. On top of that, issues like Right of Way derail fibre connectivity plans.

India’s 5G plan –

In September 2017, the Government of India had constituted a High Level 5G India 2020 Forum to evaluate and build a roadmap or action plan for 5G deployment in India by 2020. The forum also looks into the possibilities of designing and manufacturing products and solutions in the country as well as generate IPR on the subject. The report of the Steering Committee of the High Level Forum laid out three priority areas in 5G:

  • Deployment – An early roll out of 5G services to maximise the value proposition of 5G as a technology.
  • Technology – To build indigenous industrial and R&D capacity, especially for the design and Intellectual Property.
  • Manufacturing – To expand the manufacturing base for 5G technologies, which includes both semiconductor fabrication and equipment assembly and testing.

Way forward –

  • Outrightly joining the 5G bandwagon may not be the best option for India, as some of the lucrative use cases like autonomous cars and connectivity in high-speed trains do not at present fit the Indian requirement.
  • 5G, beyond the consumer segment, should also appeal to the industry for specialised applications.
  • Keeping in mind that India is a price sensitive market, 5G affordability will depend upon lower spectrum and equipment costs, efficient usage of the spectrum and network and infrastructure sharing across operators.
  • The idea, at the end of the day, should be “Designed and Made in India”, and not just “Made in India”.


Also Read: Getting ready for 4th Industrial Revolution

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