Friday, May 27, 2022

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A decisive moment for the Indian Telecom Sector

5G is a new kind of network that is designed to connect virtually everyone and everything together including machines, objects, and devices. It is very close to arriving in India now. A crucial moment for the Indian Telecom Sector has almost arrived as the 5G services are going to be launched soon in 13 cities across India.

The potential of 5G in India is indisputably transformative. Once built, it will accommodate up to one million connected devices per square kilometer of area, compared with only 2,000 under 4G long-term evolution. With such unprecedented levels of connection, India will be able to alter education, healthcare, agriculture, and other sectors in rural areas while constructing future smart cities – all trademarks of a 5G India.

According to a DoT release, telecom operators have established 5G trial sites in Gurugram, Bangalore, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chandigarh, Delhi, Jamnagar, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Pune and Gandhi Nagar, and these metros and big cities will be the first places for launch of 5G services in the country, in 2022.

The 5G rollout would be the outcome of the multi-layered process. In reverse order, the latest is the near completion of a large-scale 5G testbed project to encourage Indian startups and the industry to take an early lead in 5G. The goal of the project is to build a test bed that closely resembles a real-world 5G deployment. This project will create a 5G prototype and testing platform that will be developed under the guidance of IIT-M faculty. Funded by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), this about ₹224 crore project will deliver an end-to-end 5G testbed comprising of 5G BS and UE nodes that support enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), Ultra low latency communication (URLLC), and massive MTC including NB IoT services. The operating frequency includes both sub 6 GHz and mmwave frequencies. The ‘Indigenous 5G Testbed’ project is a long-term effort with a team of 50+ researchers/engineers based out of IIT-M campus.

DoT, in September 2021, had approached the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) for recommendations regarding 5G spectrum auction. It also sought guidelines on other modalities such as band plan, block size, reserve price, and the quantum of spectrum. In fact, A 6G ‘Technology Innovation Group’ has also been constituted by the DoT to co-create and participate in the development of the 6G technology ecosystem. The DoT received 16 applications for 5G field trials and began the first 5G in India spectrum auction, with the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) establishing the base fee at Rs 492 crore (US$ 66.4 million) per unit for 5G in India airwaves of 3.3–3.6 GHz.

Prior to that, a 5G Use Cases Lab was launched by the Institute for Development and Research in Banking Technology (IDRBT) in Hyderabad in June 2020.

The second of the initial steps towards positioning India as a globally synchronised participant in the Design, Development and Manufacturing of 5G based technology, products and applications, was the constitution of a High Level Forum.

The ball was set rolling by the then Communications Minister Manoj Sinha, who had announced that India will not miss the 5G opportunity. On 12th February, 2019, Sinha had said – “The economic impact of 5G is expected to be over one trillion dollars for India, and the consequent multiplier effect is expected to be much more”. He also called it “the next wave of digital transformation”.

This statement is based on the sheer fact of telecommunication being the fastest growing industry in India. With 1.189 billion telecom subscribers and 825 million Internet subscribers, India’s telecom industry is the second largest in the world.

Mostly led by low-cost tariffs, increased availability of the internet, implementation of mobile number portability (MNP), expansion of 3G and 4G coverage, change in subscriber consumption patterns and favourable regulatory environment, the industry has grown exponentially over the last few years.

Let’s see how 5G will drive the digital revolution in India. It is a drive towards innovation and its applications. Once the vision of 5G in India is realised, it will transform the productivity, experiences and aspirations of its citizens. The 5G technology can play a significant role in the following industries:

Manufacturing: Artificial intelligence will analyse massive amounts of data to automate human activities such as quality control, standardisation, precision checking and so on. End-to-end automation enabled by IoT will allow businesses to use robots for dangerous/repetitive work.

Smart cities and smart buildings: With Internet of Things (IoT) sensors capable of monitoring and collecting data on air quality, energy usage and traffic patterns for cities, civic authorities will be able to effectively manage operations.

Automobile: Self-driving vehicles that can communicate in real time with other adjacent vehicles and fixed roadway infrastructures will be introduced.

Healthcare: Remote diagnostics and procedures will become more popular, while medical device implants will easily gather and transmit health data to specialists, allowing for early disease identification.

 

Agriculture: Connected devices will translate data on weather conditions, crop health, chemical levels, pest presence and yield, enabling optimum labour allocation, cost and waste reduction, and yield. Monitoring of flora and wildlife and restoring ecological balance in accessible regions will become a reality.

The government has taken several initiatives for the development of 5G in India. The Department of Telecommunications recruited prominent research institutions to assist in the development and testing of 5G technologies under the name ‘Indigenous 5G Test Bed Project’. The Department of Telecom funds the 5G test bed initiative and has incurred a cost of Rs 224 crore (US$ 30.2 million).

Similarly, The Department of Telecom has allotted a spectrum for 5G testing to Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio, Vodafone Idea and MTNL.

The present and future technology needs in the telecom sector are in tune with the Atmanirbhar Bharat programme. The telecom sector is predicted to contribute 8% of India’s GDP in 2022, up from 6.5% currently.

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