5G Opportunity – Global and India Perspective

High speed wireless mobile data 5g concept image

India is not ready for 5G yet because the telecom operators in the country are not ready to invest in 5G.   

Curated by Vinay Prabhakar Minj 

High speed wireless mobile data 5g concept image

The cellular technology journey started off in the late ’80s with 1G. Then 2G came which had limited data capabilities, which evolved to 3G where one could have slightly faster speeds from the data standpoint. With 4G, speeds became faster and consumption of video increases. Now we are talking about 5G.

As we transitioned from 1G to 4G, it was all about speeds and everything was related to mobile devices, such as smartphones, tablets, etc. But 5G is going to encompass not just mobile devices but a whole lot more other things including surveillance systems. 5G is not just about speed, it will be a new experience both for consumers as well as enterprises.

With 5G, a new radio protocol is being built with a completely new interface that will improve speeds and lower latencies. Applications will include mobile broadbands and smart cities. Most importantly, the next generation network will be access agnostic.

5G network consists of five key technology areas 

  1. Access – It refers to radio access which covers both cellular and non-cellular domains. Even Wi-Fi standards are now part of IoT. Similarly, it includes low power WAN protocols like LTE-M and NB-IoT also part of 5G standards. So, the access is far more wider and broader in 5G.
  2. Network – It refers to separating the control plane from the user plane. Here, we are using software-defined networking and network function virtualization techniques for providing software control. Example, a typical router consists of a control plane which decides which route to take. And then the forwarding function moves packets from one router to another through a network.

Software-defined networking allows separating the control function from forwarding function. Control is all software-based and forwarding is hardware-based.  Network function virtualization is about visualizing the costly hardware functions. As a result, one can have a low commodity hardware box with virtual functions running over it, so that everything is controlled through software.

  1.  Edge-computing – It is to make processing closer to the asset. It is another important dimension when we talk about 5G.
  2. Transport – Most of the connectivity between two cellular towers these days is through microwave, very little fiber is being used. Today it is said that over 20-25 percent of fiberisation is done, fiber being used as backhaul to connect towers. But with 5G, a lot more fiber will need to be deployed.
  3. Device – It refers not just to mobile devices but cars and a whole lot of connected devices.

The Indian government is aiming full scale deployment of 5G networks by late 2019 or early to mid-2020

What 5G will offer?

  • Massive device connectivity – It is predicted that by 2030, there will be nearly 30 billion connected devices.
  • Ultra-reliability – The way radio interface has been built has made it a reliable network. The highly reliable network brings possibility of applications like remote surgeries, and use of robotics in manufacturing industries.
  • Ultra-low latency – 5G promises a low latency of 1 – 10 milliseconds, which supports real-time applications used for gaming and connected cars.
  • Better capacity & more coverage –5G will enable implementation of multiple small cells within a particular area, resulting in high speeds within that specific area. Thus, more capacity through more connection points in smaller areas will lead to better customer experience.

The case for change – 5G drivers

The first and foremost is lower cost structure. It becomes more cost-effective as we move from a hardware-centric to the software-centric environment. Also, resource pooling, including access network resources and other competing resources, results in more efficiency and lower costs.

The second case for change is IoT. The advent of IoT is going to change the game with a lot more devices coming into the ecosystem. It brings about a diversification of devices and high connection density (a large number of devices in a specific area). IoT is an ecosystem, no one vendor can provide the whole solution. So, 5G network will be all about working together in an ecosystem.

Third is enterprise-grade experience. It refers to very low latencies and reliability. The way the protocols have been designed will allow us to get that low latencies as well as faster speeds in the range of 1Gbps and higher.

5G enables new IoT use cases

Wide implementation of IoT would significantly improve video experience. One would be able to download videos much faster and view ultra-HD videos. The gaming experience is going to be much better.

Even the AR and VR applications would run well.

5G-enabled IoT use cases can classified into two categories: Massive IoT and Critical IoT

  • Massive IoT refers to low-cost, low-energy and small volume data volumes in massive numbers. Possible applications would include smart logistics and smart city applications like smart metering, smart traffic management, smart agriculture and so on.
  • Critical IoT refers to applications like factory automation, which enables remote monitoring of your equipment, remote operations, remote surgeries and smart grid.

5G applications in terms of connected cars include vehicle-to-vehicle communication, vehicle-to-infrastructure communication, etc. which will increase safety on the road. 5G will also find application in drones, video surveillance, broadcasting, retail industry, and so on.

Will 5G replace everything

The answer is no because there will still be a co-existence of 4G as well as 5G networks. At the moment, we are still retaining 4G LTE. But at some point in the future, a new 5G based LTE  will be built altogether which will take some time.

Co-existence will also be present with 2G technology.

5G adoption – global update  

As far as the US is concerned, all mobile operators have already made a head-start. In Europe, 5G rollout is a bit slow. They are lagging behind right now as the operators are not ready yet. In Asia, countries like China, Japan, South Korea and Australia have already taken the lead and have started trials. These countries will adopt 5G quicker than India.

The cost of spectrum in India is higher than anywhere in the world and operators are already burdened with debts of almost Rs 5-6 lakh crore

India 5G status and roadmap

The Indian government is aiming full scale deployment of 5G networks by late 2019 or early to mid-2020.

The government is also very proactive as far as the 5G is concerned. In September 2017, the Indian government constituted a 5G high-level forum and later launched a program called “Building an end to end 5G testbed”.

It is also working closely with the academia to built more 5G use cases. The government allocated a budget of Rs 2240 million to IIT Madras, Delhi, Kanpur and IISc to build 5G prototypes.

Ericsson installed the first public access 5G testbed at IIT Delhi on July 2018.

Is India ready for 5G?

There is a lot of intent from the government to catch up and adopt technology as to how the West has been adopting, but in my perspective India is not ready for 5G yet.  The first and foremost reason is that the operators are not yet ready to invest in 5G. For 5G, you need investment of US$ 50-60 billion which is a huge amount from an India perspective. The health of the Indian telecom industry today is not good. Operators are burdened with debts of almost Rs 5-6 lakh crore. Second is the cost of servicing that debt while maintaining the existing customers of 300-400 million subscribers. There is additional cost involved adding more spectrum, adding more towers, etc.

Unfortunately, the cost of spectrum in India is higher than anywhere in the world. Therefore, operators need to spend a lot more money to buy a particular spectrum, build infrastructure and develop ecosystem. Hence, in my opinion, India is still two years away from actually using 5G.

Q. How will 5G spectrum/network support a higher security level for IoT?

5G is based on 3GPP standards which is a part of GSM. So, cellular security standards are far more mature today compared to non-cellular. 3GPP has evolved over so many years. Today any cellular solution offers career grade security, over that one can also add additional security. Regarding security, one has to view holistically – at device level and from the network standpoint. By default security is guaranteed (in the way the protocol is written).

Q. What about other LPWAN technologies like LoRa and Sigfox? Will they come under 5G umbrella?

No. LoRa and Sigfox are not part of 5G standards; LTE-M and NB-IoT are. Only licensed spectrum are part of 5G spectrum. LoRa and Sigfox are unlicensed spectrum.

Q. What kind of government or regulatory support is required to make India ready for 5G soon?

First and foremost thing is that the cost of the spectrum has to be lowered. Secondly, we are also importing a lot of network equipment and so the cost of setting up the infrastructure is very high. Almost 90 percent of equipment is imported. So, lowering duties or incentivising local manufacturers to make them locally can play a part to reduce the cost for the operator. The third and most important thing is that taxes the industry is paying today needs to be lowered. If these issues are addressed, then 5G implementation will become far more affordable.


About the author

This article is an extract from a speech presented by Sunil David, Regional Director (IoT), AT&T India, at IOTSHOW.IN 2019. David has close to 25 years of experience in the IT and Telecom industry.He is responsible for building and executing the IOT strategy for the India and the ASEAN regions.