Jeanette Whyte, Head of Public Policy, Asia Pacific, GSMA

Jeanette Whyte, Head of Public Policy, Asia Pacific, GSMA

Why is 5G important for India? Simply put, 5G has the potential to accelerate growth and drive a post-pandemic recovery. Indeed, the pandemic has highlighted the need for reliable and resilient connectivity for all sectors of the economy.

The latest generation of mobile broadband, 5G is gathering momentum globally and it is poised to be the main mobile technology of the future. An in-depth study by GSMA Intelligence on the potential socio-economic benefits of 5G roll-out in India found that 5G can potentially benefit the Indian economy by at least $455 billion between 2020 and 2040, or more than 0.6 per cent of forecasted gross domestic product (GDP) in 2040.

The significance of 5G is its ability to push forward innovation across industries in four ways – enhanced mobile broadband; ultra-reliable low-latency communications; massive internet of things (IoT); and fixed wireless access.

In India, we expect benefits to be rea­lised through new applications in the ma­nufacturing sector, representing 20 per cent of total gains as well as the retail, ICT, and agricultural sectors. The public administration sector, particularly healthcare and education, will also benefit from 5G, driven by smart cities and smart 5G-enabled government applications. In addition, 5G can provide wider socio-economic benefits in India that mobile and mobile broadband have sho­wn to possess. For example:

  • Health: Mobile usage is associated with lower maternal and child mortality and they allow women to be better informed about reproductive health services (Roto­ndi et al, 2020). One quarter of users in India uses mobile to access health information at least once a month (Source: GSMA Intelligence).
  • Education: Mobile usage improves the quality of teaching and learning, and fa­cilitates reading and enhanced literacy (UNESCO, 2014). One-third of users in India use mobile to improve their education or the education of their children at least once a month (Source: GSMA Intelligence).

Key challenges for India

In the past five years, India has been one of the fastest growing mobile broadband markets, with 4G networks available to almost 99 per cent of the population and consu­mers benefitting from some of the lowest pri­ces for mobile services and de­vices in the world. However, low ARPU levels and high regulatory costs have limited operators’ ability to invest in up­grading their networ­ks. Indian operators face higher levels of debt and lower re­tur­ns on investment compared to international benchmarks, impacting their ability to invest.

The recent series of reforms in the Indian telecom sector are a critical first step by the government towards ensuring the lo­ng-term sustainability of the sector.

Policy enablers to maximise benefits from 5G services in India

To support a rapid and sustainable 5G de­ployment in India, a series of priority poli­ci­es are required, including:

  • Additional, affordable spectrum: The ti­mely assignment of spectrum is re­quir­ed, both for access and backhaul. The mo­bile industry will only be able to roll out 5G in a cost-efficient manner across all service areas if they have sufficient sp­e­ctrum. Ensuring that more than 300 MHz of mid-band spectrum is available for 5G during the next auction at a reasonable reserve price could result in more than 200 million additional 5G connecti­ons and increase the overall economic be­nefits of 5G by at least $75 billion. Poorly designed spectrum policies and excessive spectrum charges limit operators’ ability to make the necessary network investme­nts and increase the risk of priority spectrum bands being left unsold and un­uti­lised.
  • Adoption and application of policies to facilitate infrastructure deployment: Al­th­ough India has adopted policies to ea­se the deployment of network infrastructure, effective implementation is cr­ucial. Right of way (RoW) represe­nts one of the main challenges in ro­ll­ing out net­wo­rk infrastructure in many co­untries. Further, small cells are gaining importance in the growth of 4G and 5G networks. The present RoW policy does not address small cell dep­loyment and has not been implemented uniformly across the country.
  • Creating a safe and trustworthy online environment: Establishing balanced policies for personal data protection is crucial for boosting consumer confidence in 5G services. Therefore, adopting a framework that protects consumer privacy and enables cross-border data flows is necessary for the development of innovative technologies and enhancement of consumer interest.
  •  Adopting a holistic approach to policymaking: A holistic whole-of-government approach has the potential to sp­eed up digitisation and adoption of new technologies in a more efficient manner. A collaborative approach across different ministries and sectors can help efficiently harness the capabilities of intelligent mobile connectivity and realise the benefits of 5G.