Having missed the bus for early adoption of latest technologies in the past, India — one of the fastest growing telecom markets in the world — is pushing for a timely roll-out of 5G technology in the country.
The Indian government is aiming to commercially introduce 5G services in the country by the end of 2020, almost in line with rest of the world. 5G is the next generation of mobile Internet connectivity that would offer much faster and more reliable networks, which would form the backbone for the emerging era of Internet of Things (IoT).
“Previous generations of mobile networks addressed consumers predominantly for voice and SMS in 2G, web browsing in 3G and higher speed data and video streaming in 4G. The transition from 4G to 5G will serve both consumers and multiple industries,” Ericsson said in a report recently.
Globally, over 150 pre-commercial 5G trials are under way around the world, including South Korea, China and the U.S. However, a recent report by a top panel set up by the Centre pointed out that so far, 5G trials are yet to begin in India.
Ericsson pointed out in the report that the 4G networks now serve more than 240 million subscribers in urban areas across the country; however, LTE coverage in rural areas remains a challenge. The “4G link speeds in India are picking up, averaging 6-7 Mbps as compared to 25 Mbps in advanced countries,” it stated. The 5G standards, currently being developed by the third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) — an industry-driven standardisation body — envisages high speed links with peak rates of 2 to 20 Gbps for various services.
Once commercialised, 5G is expected to disrupt not only telecom but other industries as well as. 5G is expected to see use beyond delivery of services just on “personal phone platforms.” It will also connect new devices including machines, sensors, actuators, vehicles, robots and drones, to support a much larger range of applications and services.
“Initially the next generation network will see usage in key government projects such as smart cities and Digital India, besides other business-to-business applications,” said Rajan Mathews, Director General, COAI.
“We probably may not see direct consumer consumption of 5G services initially but it depends on the ecosystem… We may see consumer consumption in terms of using IoT devices such as connected refrigerators etc,” he said. An Ericsson report estimates that 5G would enable a $27-billion revenue opportunity for Indian telecom operators by 2026. The largest opportunity, it said, would be seen in sectors like manufacturing, energy and utilities followed by public safety and health sectors. The government panel report noted that even after the entry of 5G, the earlier generation mobile technologies — 2G, 3G and 4G — would continue to remain in use and it may take 10 or more years to phase them out.
The government expects the cumulative economic impact of 5G on India to be about $1 trillion by 2035.Mr. Mathews pointed out that 5G required large chunks of spectrum The reserve price for proposed spectrum band for 5G services in 3300-3600 MHz frequency had been fixed at ₹492 crore per MHz for a pan-India minimum block of 20 MHz, meaning operators would have to shell out about ₹10,000 crore.
This comes at a time when the industry continues to reel under financial stress, weighed down by high debt. “Going by global standards, the price of ₹492 crore per MHz for 5G spectrum is on the higher side as the South Korean auctions that happened recently had the price at ₹130 crore per MHz,” COAI pointed out, adding that a new way of pricing needs to be looked at.
The steering committee has recommended that the 5G spectrum allocation policy should be announced by the end of this year.
The high-level panel has recommended that 5G programmes be also funded by the government. “At present, there are only notional figures available… the committee recommends a broad planning estimate of ₹300 crore in Year one, ₹400 crore in Year two, ₹500 crore in Year three and ₹400 crore in year four.”