India, along with the rest of the world, is rapidly adopting 5G technologies and contributing to the definition of 6G technologies. From being a late adopter and consumer of 2G, 3G and 4G technologies, India has leapfrogged to become an early adopter of 5G technologies as well as an innovator and producer of 5G and 5G Advanced technologies. A key enabler for this has been the increased participation and contributions in the global standards development for 5G at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP).
There is a direct linkage between advanced economies (such as Japan, Korea and China) gaining leadership in global standards development and becoming “developed” economies. This article dwells on India’s foray into global standards development and the opportunities ahead for it to emerge as a leader in telecommunications standards. India’s emergence as a strong player in telecom innovation and manufacturing will propel the country towards becoming the world’s third largest economy by 2030.
India’s role in 5G standards
Standards have always been an essential ingredient in the evolution of the telecom industry, starting from the Morse code to 2G, 3G and 5G technologies. Telecom standards are “agreed globally” at the ITU, a UN specialised standards body with over 183 member states and more than 900 individual companies, academic and research institutions and start-ups as members.
The Telecommunications Standards Development Society, India (TSDSI), India’s telecom standards development organisation (SDO), is a sector member of the ITU. TSDSI, alongside six other global SDOs, is also the organisational partner of the global 3GPP project, where “specifications” for emerging wireless standards (such as 3G, 4G and 5G) are developed.
TSDSI played a key role in defining 5G standards at the ITU, with our 5Gi standard being recognised as one of the three radio interface technologies for IMT2020 (aka 5G), the other two being 3GPP technologies. Earlier, TSDSI was instrumental in getting the Low Mobility Large Cell (LMLC) included as a mandatory requirement at the ITU for IMT2020 to cater to the typical use case of providing coverage in rural and remote areas to people moving at “low speeds” through “large cells”. This requirement, garnering support from several countries, was the first of its kind that is driven from developing countries. TSDSI’s 5Gi standard addresses the LMLC requirement in a cost-efficient manner and has also been mandated by the government for conducting trials in the country. It is notable that this standard has recently been merged into the global 3GPP Release 17 specifications, thus paving the way for its adoption worldwide.
This experience has given TSDSI very valuable insights into how to navigate the global standards development ecosystem.
Ready to drive next G standards
The next wave of technology innovations – be it artificial intelligence (AI)/machine learning (ML), software-defined network (SDN)/network function virtualisation (NFV), edge, cloud, open initiatives and the like – are being driven by a software and modular approach. India’s prowess in software is well known. The fast growing deep technology start-up ecosystem and the establishment of research and development (R&D) centres of global giants in the country is another opportunity.
As a convention, each generation of mobile technologies takes a decade from the concept to becoming available commercially. Research and pre-standards work on 6G began in the early 2020s with the founding of projects/forums in various regions – notably the 6G Flagship (University of Oulu, Finland), HEXA-X, NEXT G Alliance, etc. The ITU has taken up work on defining the Vision of IMT 2030 (6G). There is a strong appreciation of the need for fostering consensus, collaboration and global harmonisation in standards development.
The success story of contributing effectively to the development of global 5G standards has created confidence amongst the TSDSI members, including Indian industry, start-ups, academia, R&D and policy-making bodies about India’s ability to take a leading position in the 6G story.
Key initiatives undertaken to realise this aspiration
The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has constituted a Technology Innovation Group on 6G (TIG-6G) comprising six task forces to develop the vision, mission and goals for 6G and related aspects. The task force on international standards contribution is chaired by Mr N.G. Subramaniam, Chair, TSDSI.
TSDSI initiated work on 6G with a workshop in early 2020 and has recently published a technical report on “6G: Use Cases, Requirements and Enabling Technologies” (TSDSI TR 6017 V1.0.0). A TSDSI white paper on key outcomes of this report and TSDSI’s Vision for 6G has also been released.
“India’s Telecom Standardisation Roadmap 2030” is being developed jointly by government agencies involving the stakeholders from the telecom ecosystem. Technologies spanning physical, network and applications are being positioned around eight pillars that emphasise sustainability, ubiquitous connectivity, data-driven society, and trust-security-resilience, among others. Technology trends and the roadmaps of global SDOs are being studied and mapped to the National Priorities specified by the Ministry of Communications and the Indian National Standardisation Strategy as well as the research capabilities in the country.
Experts from DoT, TSDSI and Indian industry have taken up leadership positions in global standards forums – including the ITU and 3GPP. The Digital Communication Innovation Square (DCIS) and Telecom Technology Development Fund (TTDF) schemes have been launched by the government to promote research and innovation with a standardisation potential.
In recent years, there has been a strong focus on research in telecom technologies by Indian academia to address India’s requirements. TSDSI has extended this concept to a “Standards Driven Research” initiative to motivate research in select areas that have a standardisation potential. This will help open avenues for research-driven technologies to be incorporated in global standards, for the overall benefit of the Indian ecosystem and associated manufacturing benefits.
TSDSI regularly organises online workshops in various technology areas and topics that are being deliberated in global standards forums (ITU, 3GPP, oneM2M, IEEE, etc.). This includes a wide range of topics such as waveforms, antenna technologies, sensing technologies, reflective intelligent surfaces, VLC, quantum, backhaul, broadcast offload, dynamic spectrum access, non-terrestrial networks, UAVs, etc.
TSDSI is actively mobilising the research and start-up communities from diverse regions of the country to engage in this “pre-standards” phase of 6G. There is a steady increase in participation and contributions at TSDSI and in global standards’ meetings of 3GPP and ITU. TSDSI is also taking the lead in bringing more global standardisation meetings to India to boost local participation in the global standardisation process.
TSDSI came into being in 2014 as an outcome of the need – articulated in the National Telecom Policy, 2012 – for an Indian Telecom SDO to develop and promote India-centric telecommunication requirements, standardise solutions for meeting those and contribute the same to global standardisation efforts, while safeguarding innovation from India and provide leadership to developing countries in terms of their telecommunications-related standardisation needs. TSDSI is well poised to script India’s global journey towards 6G st-andards using the approach of “thinking local – acting global”.