Since the launch of 5G services on October 1, 2022, telecom service providers (TSPs) have been aggressively rolling out 5G networks across the length and breadth of the country. How­ever, the development and deployment of new use cases for consumers and enterprises is essential to fully realise the potential of 5G technology.

Such applications and use cases may involve other associated technologies such as internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality/virtual re­a­lity/mixed reality, and the metaverse. In­no­vators are exploring new ways to apply these technologies to address the challenges of social and economic development, and build a smart society. An equally innovative policy and regulatory framework is requir­ed to complement their efforts and address the challenges and issues involved in development and deployment of use cases based on these new technologies.

In line with this objective, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has issued a consultation paper titled “Digital Transformation through 5G Ecosystem”. The consultation paper aims to identify policy challenges and suggest the right policy framework for faster adoption and effective utilisation of new technologies for the holistic and sustainable development of the economy, driven by the 5G ecosystem. presents the key issues raised by TRAI…

Adopting a collaborative approach

5G technology holds the potential to enable unprecedented degrees of flexibility, productivity and efficiency across various industry verticals. It will pave the way for developing services geared towards making smart cities, autonomous vehicles, smart factories, etc. However, to realise the true potential of 5G, the information and communication technology industry and all its verticals must come together as an ecosystem for the development and deployment of mature use cases.

To this end, the Government of India is setting up 100 test labs in collaboration with 14 other ministries and departments to explore 5G use cases for these industry verticals, leveraging communication technologies such as 5G, 4G LTE Advanced and IoT. In collaboration with the Mini­s­try of Communications, they will work on ideas, technologies, prototyping and fine-tuning of use cases identified by the ministry relevant to each vertical.

However, looking at the initiatives being taken globally, TRAI believes that a more comprehensive approach is required to study the prospects of 5G use cases in India, covering the technical, regulatory, policy and socio-economic aspects by en­gaging relevant stakeholders from different sectors. To this end, TRAI has asked sta­keholders to assess whether there is a need for additional measures to further str­en­gthen cross-sector collaboration for the development and adoption of 5G use cases in India. Further, stakeholders have been asked to comment on the potential barriers in the development of 5G use cases that need to be addressed.

Creating awareness

As India is a developing nation, the primary challenge in implementing 5G use cases in sectors such as agriculture, healthcare and education is addressing the digital divide, creating awareness and ensuring that citizens in rural and remote areas have access to the necessary technology and infrastructure to adopt these use cases. They need to be aware of the benefits, such as improved efficiency, convenience and quality of life, as well risks, such as data breaches, cyberattacks and ethical issues. To this end, TRAI has sought stakeholders’ views on what policy measures are required to create awareness and promote the use of 5G technology and its infrastructure, so that citizens, including those residing in rural and remote areas, may benefit from the deployment of 5G use cases and services to create new economic activities and increase employment opportunities.

TRAI has also asked about the policy measures required to promote the use of IoT technology and the necessary infrastructure, as well as the initiatives required to spread awareness among citizens about IoT-enabled smart applications. Further, TRAI is seeking stakeholder responses on whether private companies/start-ups developing these applications need to be stimulated through incentivisation schemes.

R&D and start-up ecosystem

Start-ups in India are facing certain challenges. One of the main challenges is im­porting equipment for research and development (R&D) purposes. There is also the issue of warehousing requirements. Fur­ther, much of the test equipment required is costly and requires regular opex for calibration and maintenance.

To this end, TRAI has asked stakeholders about the additional policy and regulatory measures required to encourage R&D of IoT use cases in various sectors, incentivise start-ups for R&D of IoT-enabled use cases across various industry verticals, and encourage domestic and foreign investors to invest in start-ups for such development activities.

Security and privacy issues

The rapid rise of IoT adoption is creating pressing privacy concerns despite its potential benefits. IoT devices can collect vast quantities of granular data about individuals’ daily habits and activities. Today, IoT may also have larger consequences for industries, and hence multiple sectoral regulators need to work collaboratively on IoT security. While many working groups under ministries talk to each other through common committees, a common arrangement that defines and allocates areas of responsibility and ownership is missing.

To this end, TRAI has sought stakeholder views on the additional measures re­quired to strengthen the framework for complete security testing and certification of IoT devices (hardware as well as software). Further, since IoT security challen­g­es and requirements vary significantly acro­ss different industry verticals, TRAI has asked about the need to develop sector-specific IoT security and privacy guidelines.

Upskilling for Industry 4.0 and beyond

Characterised by the convergence of digital technologies cutting across the physical and digital worlds, Industry 4.0 will make many existing jobs and ways of working redundant, while many new ones will be created. But what separates Industry 4.0 from the previous revolutions is the un­pre­cedented speed and spread of technological change. Industry 4.0 encompasses AI, robotics, big data and IoT, and is set to change the nature of jobs. Skillsets that were in demand until a few years ago are now becoming obsolete. India’s largest hu­man resource challenge is to upskill industrial employees to enable them to understand the benefits and consequences of adopting the new use cases.

In view of this issue, TRAI has asked for stakeholders’ suggestions on the measures that can be undertaken to upskill the top management and owners of industries, as well as the workforce; and the kind of public-private partnership models that can be adopted for this task.

Focus on MSMEs

Micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) play a pivotal role in the growth of the manufacturing sector. India has an estimated 63.38 million unincorporated non-agriculture MSMEs engaged in different economic activities, of which 32.48 million are based in rural areas, and 30.9 million are from urban areas. The Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises has developed a robust skilling ecosystem to meet the demands of the skilled workforce in the various emerging and traditional sectors across different segments. However, despite this and other initiatives undertaken by the government, MSMEs in India have, so far, not shown an enthusiastic response to digital transformation. Despite their high potential, most MSMEs are confronted with barriers in embracing Industry 4.0 practices in India.

To this end, TRAI has sought stakeholder views on the policy, regulatory and other challenges faced by MSMEs in the adoption of Industry 4.0; and the measures required to address these challenges.

Concerns regarding MEC

Multi-access edge computing (MEC) en­ables the content and functions of telecom operators and third-party service providers to be hosted close to the point of attachme­nt of user equipment. MEC in­volves mul­ti­ple actors, such as network op­e­rators, service providers, application de­ve­lopers and end-users. Stakeholders need to ensure in­teroperability and compatibility among di­fferent MEC platforms, services and applications, as well as alignment with exis­ting and emerging standards and regulations.

While it may appear at first sight that MEC is more secure because data is not travelling over the network, it is, in actuality, less secure, because the edge devices in themselves can be more vulnerable. Edge computing exposes data to more potential threats and vulnerabilities, as data is stored and processed on devices that may have lower security standards or capabilities than centralised cloud servers. To this end, TRAI has sought stakeholder views on the need to have a separate security mechanism for MEC.

Leveraging the metaverse opportunity

TRAI believes that India has a unique opportunity to shape and benefit from the metaverse. However, this requires creating awareness about the metaverse among its diverse and dynamic population. To this end, it has asked stakeholders about the policy measures required to create awareness and promote the use of the metaverse.

Further, the metaverse raises critical issues such as privacy, safety and security, which require greater deliberation. In addition to data theft concerns, the increase in virtual interactions and the growth of concepts such as digital avatars will make the tracking of cybercriminals and the interception of illegal content more pernicious. To this end, TRAI has sought stakeholder views on the need to develop a regulatory framework to facilitate the responsible development and use of the metaverse.

Kuhu Singh Abbhi