Since the launch of 5G services, the Indian telecom space has been burgeoning with opportunities. In an interview with tele.net, Sylwia Kechiche, principal analyst, Enterprise, Ookla, discusses upcoming opportunities and how India fares in the 5G domain compared to other global markets. Edited excerpts…
How is India faring in terms of 5G roll-outs in comparison to other global markets?
India is faring relatively well, having achieved a median 5G download speed of 355.17 Mbps in the first half of 2023. According to Speedtest Intelligence® H1 2023 data, several markets in the Asia-Pacific region, including India, had faster median download performance compared to the top five European economies. Malaysia and South Korea led the pack with speeds of over 500 Mbps. This is followed by Singapore, India, New Zealand, China and Australia, reaching a median 5G download speed exceeding 200 Mbps.
What are your thoughts on the growing 5G opportunity in India? How can the country expedite 5G roll-outs?
One of the main obstacles to implementing 5G in India is the inadequate backhaul infrastructure and the need for right-of-way access. Currently, many Indian operators rely on terrestrial wireless backhaul solutions. With the 5G roll-out, the capacity per tower site needs to increase significantly to accommodate 5G traffic requirements which, in turn, requires fiberised backhaul. While the E-band spectrum allocated to operators in 2022 provides some assistance, more is needed to support the roll-out of 5G.
Another challenge is the availability and affordability of smartphones. According to Speedtest Intelligence® data, 5G availability – the percentage of users on 5G-capable devices that spend most of their time accessing 5G networks – was 8.4 per cent in the first half of 2023, indicating that there is still substantial room to grow.
What is your take on the deployment of private 5G networks in India? Do you think the country has the appropriate policy and regulatory mix to usher in private 5G?
Private networks help enterprises achieve Industry 4.0 objectives, especially in the manufacturing sector. However, there have been heated debates over whether enterprises should have access to a dedicated spectrum in India, which ended when the Department of Telecommunications rejected the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s plan to reserve 5G bands for private/captive networks. Instead, enterprises wanting to deploy private networks will have to lease spectrum from operators.
How is the satellite communications space evolving in India? What will be the future trends in this space?
Low earth orbit services developed by companies such as Starlink and OneWeb Network Access Associates Limited have broad applications within the Indian market. Low fixed broadband penetration – which covers less than 10 per cent of households – presents a substantial opportunity for growth. Satellite internet services can serve as a competitive option in areas where fibre deployment is not commercially viable, offering competitive speeds (as seen from our recent analysis). There are broader roles for satellite internet, both in terms of providing backhaul services and offering coverage to more remote rural areas. India’s National Broadband Mission highlights satellite as part of the technology mix to extend broadband connectivity across the country to previously unconnected places.
What future trends do you foresee in the overall telecom space in India? What will be the key market drivers?
- Mobile speeds will improve further: Speedtest Intelligence® data shows that mobile speeds in India have increased over the past 12 months. According to the Speedtest Global Index report, India climbed 50 ranks in median mobile speeds globally, going from 105th in November 2022 to 55th in June 2023. The median mobile download speed was 18.26 Mbps in November 2022, which increased to 42.75 Mbps in June 2023.
- 5G FWA and satellite offer connectivity to rural areas in India: 5G fixed wireless access (FWA) combined with satellite broadband will reach difficult-to-connect remote and rural areas. 5G FWA has already been very successful in the US, South Africa and the Philippines, and there is a growing interest in India as well.
- Building an ecosystem around 5G: Operators will find ways to monetise 5G, both on the consumer and enterprise fronts. 5G can benefit a wide range of connected consumer devices, from smartwatches monitoring health and becoming daily companions to smart cities, managing traffic flows to connect people to services and connected vehicles (potentially even self-driving cars in the future). With 5G networks in place, the doors are now open for innovation and building a local ecosystem comprising affordable devices, content and applications as India embarks on the 6G vision.