Rethinking India’s Telecom Future as 5G

Rethinking India’s Telecom Future as 5G

In the era of the digital revolution, the telecom industry plays a vital role in transforming India. The unforeseen levels of growing demand for wireless connectivity laid down the roadmap to 5G. It is unlike the evolution from 3G to 4G where high speed and low latency were the prime considerations. 5G, while supporting 100 times faster speed than 4G, provides machine-to-machine communication, highly reliable transmission, and has very little latency. These are certain prime features that promise life transformation towards development. As 5G is a highly scalable technology and is considered to become the backbone support for various upcoming industries like Artificial intelligence, augmented reality/virtual reality, drones, internet of things, telemedicine, and autonomous vehicles, it being almost the end of the year 2021, 5G is still being seen as yet to arrive in India. However, at the global level, 5G trials are progressing at a higher pace. By the middle of 2021, more than fifty countries were ready to launch it commercially. Let us dig deeper into the development of 5G evolution in India.

What is 5G?

5G is the next-level wireless standard after 2G, 3G, and 4G. The prime revolutionary goal of 5G is to provide massive connectivity among various devices with high network reliability and energy efficiency. 5G is not based on a single technology, instead, it is an integration of various technologies. The following are the key enablers of 5G:

Massive MIMO, millimeter wave, dual connectivity architecture, and ultra-dense networking are the major wireless technologies that are part of 5G. 5G will be deployed in both lower bands (i.e., sub-6 GHz) as well as millimeter waves (i.e., 24 GHz and up), hence is assumed to provide immense capacity, multi-Gbps throughput, and low latency.

Recently, 5G new radio air interfaces have been designed to deliver a high degree of scalability and high flexibility. A self-contained TDD sub-frame design is one such example of 5G NR air interface. Ø

Apart from this, network technologies like information-centric networking, software-defined networks, and network slicing have also been introduced in 5G. Information-centric networking is used for minimizing network traffic, software-defined network is used for enhancing flexibility in the network, and network slicing is used for faster deployments. Mobile edge computing and network function virtualization are also elements of 5G.

Advanced access techniques like beam division multiple access and filter bank multi-carrier are also part of 5G.

5G Development In India

As far as India is concerned, both the government and operators are joining the global race of 5G evolution. Agencies like the Telecommunications Standards Development Society, India (“TSDSI”) and Telecommunication Engineering Centre (“TEC”) are being established to formulate standards and fundamental technical plans along the lines of development of 5G in India and providing technical support and advice to the DoT and TRAI. Additionally, large-scale network infrastructure, which is the prerequisite for 5G, is still in the development phase and is still inadequate. Optical fiber installation throughout the country is also seen gearing up at a much higher rate. The plan is to extend optical fiber installation to 2 million km country-wide, covering 70% of the nation’s towers by 2024.

Simultaneously, various mobile operators are conducting 5G trials in both rural and urban areas. Airtel has recently tested a 5G environment in Hyderabad over the commercial network. Reliance Jio has confirmed that the 5G technology trials in the field have been successful, with speeds over 1Gbps clocked, with a specific focus on 5G hardware and infrastructure developed in India. BSNL has also joined hands with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), and Tejas Networks to launch a 5G non-stand-alone network by the end of 2022. The home-grown 5Gi standard developed by IIT Hyderabad and IIT Madras will also likely be tested for feasibility, provided, it can potentially enhance rural broadband connectivity using ultra-long range cell sites. Millimeter wave band for 5G India will also be tested to enhance spectrum efficiency by considering ultra-high-speed Fixed Access Network (FAN) and Enhanced Mobile Broadband (EMB). Once the trials are over, we can expect to launch 5G in India by the end of 2022. By 2026, we can then expect the number of 5G users in India to rise to 350 million.

Hurdles in launching 5G in India

High spectrum price is the major issue being faced by telecom operators. As per the existing data, each Mega Hz spectrum is sold at INR 492 which is seven times costlier than what is it in the UK. High taxes and fees imposed by the Government reduce the interest of mobile operators in investing in digital infrastructure. India is among the top 20 countries in terms of generating the highest sector-specific tax. Furthermore, the lack of fiber infrastructure is another major hurdle in deploying a 5G network. According to the current situation, only twenty percent of the towers in India are backhauled with fiber connectivity. For an efficient 5G deployment, we need to upgrade this connectivity up to two times at the minimum. Developing 5G hardware in India, choosing to opt for the 5G standard, the unorganized structure of the 5G telecom regularity body, and balancing among the different 5G spectrums are some other major challenges that need to be addressed.

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