Sanjay Kaul, Managing Director, Global Services Provider Business Group, Cisco, India and South Asia

Imagine a time when your device schedules your day even before you wake up, by planning your necessary appointments and other tasks. This is possible with the power of 5G, which is currently sweeping the world. And India, in a bid to join the technological revolution, plans to roll it out by 2020. The country is taking great strides towards a connected society as is evident from the growing proliferation of smart devices, backed by government initiatives like the Smart Cities Mission, Digital India and BharatNet.

India, possibly the biggest beneficiary of 5G

Cisco’s VNI report states that there will be 2 billion networked devices by 2021, up from 1.4 billion in 2016. Also, the overall IP traffic is expected to grow four-fold from 1.7 exabytes per month in 2016 to 6.5 exabytes of data per month in 2021, a growth of 30 per cent. This will be complemented by the increasing usage of virtual assistants, which would allow users to control home devices and manage appointments automatically without any manual intervention.

Adding to that, an evolving start-up ecosystem will be the major beneficiary of 5G, leading to the creation of new markets and expanding the connected devices market multifold. From an industry standpoint, this is the perfect recipe for a billion-dollar, connected-devices industry, which will add significant value to the Indian gross domestic product.

Impetus from the new telecom policy

There could not have been a more opportune time to implement the new telecom policy to supplement 5G and help telecom providers gear up for the challenging task ahead. If executed properly, telecom operators are expected to post 34 per cent higher revenues worth around $582 billion by 2026, on the back of a 5G-enabled digitalisation. The National Digital Com­mu­­nica­tions Policy, 2018 aims to provide a speed of 10 Gbps and attract $100 billion investment in the world’s second largest telecom industry. This will help expedite the process of creating a 5G-enabled infrastructure. Besides, it will speed up the evolution of 3G to 4G, and eventually, to 5G across the country.

However, bringing affordable internet to the masses would be a major task for the telcos in the backdrop of tough pricing competition and high spectrum charges. This can be achieved by decoupling software from expensive proprietary hardware by using software-defined networking and automation. This will provide on-demand bandwidth along with achieving higher flexibility for telcos. In such a scenario, the introduction of 5G will give a new lease of life to this industry by transitioning it from network developers to service creators. They will be able to find new revenue streams by solving the key challenges in the digitalisation of several industries.

Improving health and securing wealth

As a technocrat, I am a strong proponent of using technology in medicare to improve a country’s ranking on the healthcare index. Using technology to send out SMS reminders to tuberculosis, malaria and diarrhoea patients to ensure treatment compliance could be a game changer in rural India. Use of wearable devices can help people keep a tab on their health. This, in turn, will allow doctors to predict the probability of diseases and institute preventive measures. Another trend in recent times is the concept of connected cars that allows for internet-enabled navigation. Its success can be ascertained from the fact that its adoption has been on an upward trajectory for the past few quarters, according to Nielsen. The second aspect to this is app-based vehicles, which have already taken the automotive industry by storm. Here, 5G would allow for the large-scale deployment of an app-based fleet of vehicles through its strong bandwidth, thereby reducing accidents significantly, fuel costs by 10–15 per cent, and idling and stoppage time by 40–80 per cent.

Manufacturers too have the opportunity to adapt processes with high-speed connected technologies to lower costs, optimise operations, improve productivity and manage the supply chain.

Teething issues in the adoption of 5G

While the road ahead for 5G in India is bright, it is also fraught with regulatory and other challenges. Further, the slow adoption of a faster fibre-based network over microwave backhaul has been a teething issue. Currently, only 20 per cent of the total telecom towers in India are fiberised. Addressing the lack of supportive infrastructure followed by large-scale deployment of the same would be the key to achieving the success of 5G.

However, the long-term picture seems bright for the Indian sub-continent with the confluence of schemes like Digital India and Smart Cities. Service providers are making massive investments to improve their network architectures and fast adopting emerging technologies like NFVi, automation, telemetry and cloud to leverage the 5G opportunity. This coupled with an increasing focus on e-governance and higher investments by global technology firms like Cisco will pave the way for a new India running on 5G technologies and enabling the digital opportunity for the industry.