5G has become a buzzword globally. While India might still be a couple of years from a commercial 5G roll-out, conversations are on to prepare the industry for embracing the technology.
In 5G, unlike previous technologies, the fundamental game is around data speeds. 5G promises 10 times faster data speeds than 4G. This means, from an end-user point of view, 5G promises a far superior data experience than any other technology till date. The second important consideration is that 5G promises at least 10 times lesser response time in terms of uplinks. In other words, latencies of extremely low orders are promised by the technology. This means 5G can have significant use cases such as remote surgeries in healthcare, e-education and autonomous driving. For India, 5G can have far-reaching implications, particularly in the healthcare space.
Infrastructure considerations for 5G
Unlike 4G in India, where every fourth telecom tower is connected to fibre, 5G roll-out would require every single telecom tower to be fiberised. Moreover, telecom towers at present only have radios on top of them and compute power primarily resides on the core network. However, in the case of 5G, computing will happen at each telecom tower itself so as to drive low latency and high speeds. In fact, it is believed that 5G would require towers to have both computing power as well as storage capacity.
There is going to be a tremendous amount of usage on the spectrum side in the case of 5G. The technology brings with it the concept of network slicing, wherein common shared resources can be used by telcos or service providers. This will also result in higher levels of network softwarisation, which will eventually give rise to network security issues.
Development of standards and security protocols
As of today, the country is not an active participant when it comes to international standard setting for 5G technology. That said, India, given its sheer market size and the number of devices that are expected to be connected in the coming years, should definitely get a seat on the high table in terms of 5G standardisation. Besides China, India is the only country that can provide a large user base for technology adoption, and therefore, it should actively work with international bodies on arriving at country-specific 5G standards.
5G will pose enormous security challenges both at the domestic and international levels, and the same must be addressed. There should be a joint mechanism or a platform to address security challenges by various countries. Establishing a dedicated agency with prosecution powers, comprising the right set of people, is certainly an option to deliberate upon. Further, the protocols for 5G should not be vendor locked, and instead an open platform is required.
It is a known fact that India has been rather slow in deploying security standards for 4G and we must ensure that the same does not get repeated with 5G. Interestingly, we as a country do have time on our side in the case of 5G. India is still three to four years away from commercial 5G roll-out. Also, telcos clearly lack the financial wherewithal to invest in the technology and roll-outs. In terms of capex, Indian telcos will be looking at cumulative investments of $6 billion-$7 billion to undertake 5G launch.
India needs to play an active role in global standard setting by partnering with other like-minded countries. Partnership will be the key wherein other countries can bring in their core competencies in this field on the table. Besides its significant market size, the country can contribute through its research and development, and chip design capabilities. Meanwhile, Japan can bring in its expertise of fiberisation of the network. The US can bring significant use cases and with this an alternative to the current limited technology options.
5G is the technology of tomorrow which promises to catapult India into a digital era. It will be the backbone of Digital India as well as that of smart cities and the fintech sector. There will be multiple sets of use cases that will contribute to 5G adoption and will leverage 5G’s transformative powers.