Telecom operators around the world have stepped up efforts to launch 5G services, with several of them initiating network trials to set up the desired ecosystem prior to commercial launch of the technology. In India, too, the government, the regulator and the industry are making concerted efforts to introduce 5G in the country in line with other global markets. The need of the hour is to lay the groundwork, remove implementation roadblocks, and ensure timely and smooth deployment of the technology. Effective spectrum pricing will play a key role in promoting healthy investments in networks. There is also a need to develop India-specific use cases and applications of 5G . At the recently concluded annual general body meeting of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) for the year 2018-19, policymakers, regulators and telecom service providers shared their views on India’s 5G roadmap…

Anshu Prakash, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Communications

The government is fully cognisant of the range of opportunities and benefits offered by 5G. It aims to ensure that these benefits get accrued in time and are in sync with the developments across the rest of the world. That said, 4G will remain an important technology for some time in the future, till, say, at least 2025. Initially, 5G will hold only a small share in the entire range of telecom technologies.

In line with the recommendations of the high committee on 5G, a number of actionable measures have been chalked out and we are currently engaged in taking those to a logical conclusion. We are working on addressing industry concerns around spectrum availability for 5G trials, particularly issues relating to the quantum of spectrum, the time period for allocation, renewal period and terms, pricing, etc. A committee formed for this purpose has submitted its report, which is currently under examination.

The new government has listed 5G as one of its key priorities. As for spectrum auction, it has already announced that it will happen within one year. There will also be network-related requirements for 5G implementation. An extensive fibre network will be required for backhauling towers. Thus, resolving right of way (RoW) issues is one of the key priorities of the government. The capex and investment requirements for 5G also present an important issue. The government and the industry will have to work together to explore ways and means to bring in investments for 5G.

While 5G may be seen as a technological challenge, it can also be used as a vehicle for social and economic transformation in the country. In fact, given the critical applications that 5G can facilitate, this technology must be used to transform India. We must create applications that will have a direct impact on the lives of people. These could be in the domains of healthcare, education, banking, etc.

The government has already laid out a 5G roadmap. The need of the hour is to implement it in a time-bound manner, which is only possible through a collaborative effort by the government and the industry. 5G technology trials will happen soon in India, where telecom service providers will work with equipment manufacturers to demonstrate 5G potential through real applications on the ground.

Sunil K. Gupta, Secretary, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India

The telecom networks that we talk about today are very different from what they were in 2000 when mostly voice calls were made. Today, a telecom network is a platform for the delivery of a range of services across different verticals such as healthcare, education, power, agriculture, finance, transport, education and entertainment. All industry stakeholders have played an instrumental role in developing these network capabilities. The government and the regulator have only been here to resolve the issues that these operators face while setting up the network.

5G is a reality. It is imperative that we find suitable 5G applications for the development of the country, industrial growth, and corporate and common utilisations. As we all know, reliability and secure connectivity is the basic requirement. Thus, we have to facilitate the development of relevant infrastructure for providing all telecom services. We have to encourage the role of advanced services such as artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT) and 5G. If we think of 5G, three applications come to mind. These are enhanced mobile broadband, ultra-reliable low latency communication and massive machine-to-machine communication. Enhanced mobile broadband is a necessity when we talk about virtual reality, video quality, mobile cloud, computing, 360 degree ultra-high definition videos, and video streaming.

Ultra reliability and low frequency applications go well beyond the use case of driverless cars. There are many other applications with critical communication requirements such as industrial manufacturing, production processes, transport safety, automated cars and smart gear applications.

Network slicing is one of the key features supported by 5G. It can provide corporates the desired quality of services. 5G networks are capable of providing different qualities and different levels of network uptime and other parameters.

That said, there are several challenges in 5G implementation, the key being RoW, where government support is needed. Further, infrastructure creation will require huge finances, which may be difficult to secure by the limited number of telecom service providers. There is a need to encourage the sharing of active infrastructure, which may be provided by entities other than telecom service providers. 5G will not be a technology that is to be provided only by telecom service providers. There are device manufacturers, application developers, system integrators and sensor manufacturers, who will all play critical roles.

Balesh Sharma, Chief Executive Officer, Vodafone Idea Limited

With concerted efforts made by the industry, the government and the regulator, India today has a billion telecom connections. India is also the biggest consumer of data in the world with more than half a billion users using data services. Yet, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Digital convergence, big data, IoT, cloud, robotics and AI promise to bring about an unprecedented transformation, and it is the telecom sector that will provide the critical layer of connectivity.

Our policymakers and regulators have set up an ideal platform for the industry. With the announcement of the National Digital Communications Policy (NDCP) last October, the government has set an ambitious, holistic and forward-looking course for the sector. In the past five years, several reforms such as spectrum harmonisation, sharing and trading have helped the sector shift from a spectrum-scarce to a spectrum-surplus situation. Policies such as KYC (know your customer), and measures to improve the ease of doing business in the sector have also provided support. With investments worth Rs 10.4 trillion, over 500,000 mobile towers, 2 million base stations and a world-class communication infrastructure across the length and breadth of the country, India stands with the rest of the world, that is, on the brink of introducing 5G and other future-ready technologies. Service providers are ready with their networks to welcome 5G. They are forging relevant partnerships for expanding their 4G networks and making them more robust in anticipation of 5G.

The provisioning of organised, continuous, interference-free 5G spectrum will help ensure seamless connectivity and provide customised experience in an efficient and cost-effective manner. The industry seeks suitable changes in the auction design such that 5G spectrum is made available to all players at reasonable prices. This will bring in more investments for network deployment and ensure better customer experience.

The Indian telecom sector has been going through a difficult phase in the past few years. Despite financial constraints, telecom service providers have remained steadfast, keeping customer demands on priority, expanding capacity, and introducing new products and services.

Today, we have the right industry structure with three strong nationwide private players and one large public sector service provider, providing sufficient choice to the consumers and creating a healthy market competition. It is heartening that the NDCP has recognised the telecom industry’s requirements and suggested ways to address them comprehensively.