Digvijay Sharma, Director, Ciena

5G is currently the subject of intense discussions across the telecommunications industry. In fact, a recent re­port by the Department of Telecom­muni­­cations (DoT) estimates that the cumulative economic impact of 5G on India could reach $1 trillion by 2035.

From the consumer point of view, 5G is an attractive proposition, providing faster download speeds and reduced latency. But the benefits of 5G go beyond the enhanced streaming experience or the smooth performance of data-heavy mobile applications. 5G will provide the basis for digital transformation across the industrial and service sectors. To point out a few examples, with 5G, manufacturers will be able to significantly enhance the automated aspects of their production and supply chains to boost efficiency and achieve cost savings. Similarly, smart vehicles will drive the next revolution for cab hailing services. 5G will also be critical to the creation of smart cities, which require uninterrupted flow of data from interconnected wired and wireless networks. 5G will improve digital monitoring, tracking and automation capabilities on a large scale – from connected farms and agriculture to smart cities and buildings. This creates new opportunities for public safety, government, city management and utility companies.

The 5G opportunity

5G is expected to generate up to hundred times higher user-experience data rates and connect hundred times more devices. La­tency will be reduced tenfold and users will be able to access thousand times more data in terms of volume. Additionally, 5G will offer higher network availability. For private users, this means that the dream of a truly smart home can be fully realised, wh­­i­le further recording an increase in download and streaming speeds and a significant improvement in reception during major events such as festivals or cricket matches.

Following the introduction of 5G, in­­dustrial users could further enhance the application of automation wirelessly in their production and supply chains – some­thing that is currently not possible due to legacy automation infrastructure.

Bringing 5G to India

At a 5G High Level Forum organised by the Indian government, the following th­r­ee priorities were outlined:

  • Deployment – rolling out early, efficient and pervasive 5G networks to maximise the value offered by this new technology.
  • Technology – building India’s industrial and research and design (R&D) capacity in the design and IP dimensions of 5G.
  • Manufacturing – expanding the manufacturing base in 5G for both semiconductor fabrication as well as assembly and test plants.

As per the report, the government has launched a programme, “Building an End-to-End 5G Test Bed”, to advance innovation and research in 5G. The goal of the programme is to build proof-of-concept 5G prototypes that are broadly compliant with the 3GPP standards.

Further, the recently approved Natio­n­al Digital Communications Policy (NDCP), 2018 will support the country’s tran­sition to a digital economy by creating an “action plan for the roll-out of 5G applications and services” and helping to enhance the backhaul capacity to support next-generation networks. The administration also plans to hold an auction for 5G spectrum soon. Additional features in the NDCP policy include plans for the government to create a roadmap for emerging technologies like 5G.

Although the US, China and South Korea have already begun to roll out field trials, most of them fall under the pre-5G classification, as the industry standards had only been recently completed. With ultra-reliable and low latency 5G standards targeted to be completed by 2020, it is still several years away from the realisation of a true 5G network. In the meantime, 4G and its variants (LTE, LTE-A and LTE-A Pro) are expected to play a key role in mobile networking for many years to come, especially in applications such as mobile broadband connections in the suburban regions.

Getting ahead of the game

Now is the time for network operators to start modernising their infrastructure, as switching from copper to fibre will be not only costly but also time-consuming, and that investment can be more easily absorb­ed over longer periods. Without this investment, the progress of digital transformation and the possibility of 5G could be slow and several key markets could fall behind, including the manufacturing and the automobile industries.

India’s mobile networks are, undoubtedly, a success story in terms of population reach and affordability. The introduction of 5G will be an even bigger opportunity and will touch many economic verticals. But the country also faces many challenges in 5G, given that the nature of the network is very different from previous generations and will, therefore, need significant learning and adaptation.

Service providers in the country have a unique opportunity to secure a strong position and capitalise on the government’s support to 5G. India can lead the world in “inclusive 5G” technology by investing in the development of their current 4G networks.