The Indian government plans to hold a 4G airwaves sale in March 2021, which may be followed by a sale of 5G airwaves later in the year. But is the digital infrastructure ready for a pan India rollout of 5G network?
Needless to say, the next generation of cellular technology is significantly faster than its predecessor 4G and enables a new kind of wireless network that will seamlessly connect everyone and everything – machines, objects, devices, and people.
In India, the average monthly mobile data usage per smartphone continues to show robust growth, boosted by the rapid adoption wireless technologies and people working from home during Covid-19. According to the latest edition of the Ericsson Mobility Report, in the next 5 years, 5G subscriptions in the country will surpass 350 million, accounting for 27% of all mobile subscriptions, and also projects that four out of every ten mobile subscriptions in 2026 will be 5G. Likewise, 60% of the world population will have access to 5G coverage, with 5G subscriptions forecast to reach 3.5 billion.
“Considering the recent trends powered by increasing broadband penetration, exponential data uptake, the Government’s focus on digitalization and increasing technology adoption across industries, India may be on the cusp of a data (digital) revolution which has the potential to boost industrial productivity and transform the socio-economic fabric of the country. This also builds the case for accelerated 5G roll-outs and growth in the country,” said Sathish Gopalaiah, Partner, Deloitte India.
The 5G avalanche is here
Experts also believe that with 5G entering the next phase, organizations should be preparing for the 5G data avalanche now. Findings from Ericsson show there could be 3.5 billion Internet of Things (IoT) units by 2023 — equaling five times the number of connected devices used now. Organizations must also ensure newer enterprise systems are being designed with a natural migration path to software-based systems and should embrace new technologies and business processes. Additionally, the company forecasts that 5G networks will spur the growth of Internet-connected devices.
Ram Mohan Natarajan, Senior Vice President – Business Transformation, HGS, believes with 5G devices going mainstream, everything is set to change – businesses, products, services, etc. The 5G network will offer over 20 Gbps data and very low latency. This will pave roads for many long-held technology goals, including real-time augmented reality (AR) and IoT, among others. 5G will also transform the underlying architecture in core networks and will promote virtualization, AI and Automation.
“5G will enable massive growth for videos and will give access to experts on demand like never before. It holds a lot of promise for user experience, which may evolve to the next level. Bandwidth and connectivity issues have been major pain-points in remote working environments. These will be mitigated to a great extent with 5G becoming mainstream,” he said.
According to Natarajan, 5G will also boost other industries such as online education; healthcare applications like remote surgery, patient monitoring, telemedicine, etc.; smart farming with sensors in crop monitoring, online market places, etc.; smart homes and cities with sensors; smart utility meters and mobile applications; Sensor-based building management, video surveillance and many more. All in all, there’s a lot to look forward to.”
The Challenges before the Enterprise
While the potentials of 5G technologies are immense and there are plethora of relevant use cases for 5G going mainstream in the year to come, and the spectrum auction is touted to happen anytime soon in India this year,
While 5G network bandwidth and speed will undoubtedly facilitate a surge in high-bandwidth and real-time communications in organizations, it’s going to have an absolute impact on IT strategic plans and therefore certain challenges before the enterprises need to be resolved soon.
Firstly, to unlock the potential of 5G, it is critical that the organization has a strong digital strategy in place or wireless connectivity should be incorporated into company’s business plan. This means, in terms of employees’ devices – whether bring-your-own-device (BYOD) or corporate devices they need to decide fast as to whether to upgrade to 5G and, if so, to identify the main use cases.
Secondly, companies need to address how 5G is going to affect the overall communications infrastructure. Until now, tech leaders looked at wireless infrastructure as a way of managing infrastructure for their Wi-Fi network and cellular has been an opex cost. 5G is different because the base stations need to be much more densely deployed and the form factors have shrunk dramatically. For example, in the US, several stadiums and train stations are integrating wireless LAN and cellular to offer a better user experience.
Thirdly, organizations should also review and audit their present network infrastructures to understand what upgrades or replacements to network hardware, software, and services may be required to get ready for 5G and have a budget plan for network upgrades.
Finally, transitioning to 5G will come with its own security risks. Experts point out that 5G and the various new applications that will come with it will widen the arena for cyber criminals. Like, Anand Bhaskar, Managing Director, Service Providers, Cisco India & SAARC, explained, “To foster resilience and agility in the new normal, enterprises are fast-tracking their digital transformation, turning to remote/hybrid operations and automation. Here, 5G will allow companies, irrespective of size, to facilitate seamless and secure collaboration between widely dispersed teams, enable contactless manufacturing, and connect mission-critical IoT devices reliably and provide for a significantly enhanced user experience.”
“To help enterprises tap into the potential of 5G, Cisco is building the “internet of the future”, with an end-to-end strategy around silicon, optics, software, and security which form the foundation for enabling all key 5G services for telecom service providers,” he said.
There are also challenges on the consumer front. Experts believe, even if 5G network connectivity comes in, affordable 5G phones are yet to make into the market. Earlier, Qualcomm announced that they have partners working on affordable 5G devices but it’s yet to get launched. But Ashwin Sivakumar, co-founder and chief of digital business growth of the JugularSocial Group, a Hyderabad based company that helps transform businesses digitally observed, “The emergence of a plethora of consumer apps and aggregators proves that the consumers are ready for anything new and innovative. They embrace new habits and are quick to pick technology that addresses their needs. With 5G going mainstream, industries and society will have to adapt these new digital ecosystems for reviving their growth in 2021.”
Hope on the horizon
However, unlike many other countries that are rolling out 5G connectivity to users, in India full-fledged trials on 5G spectrum are still pending and the need of the hour is to have the 5G spectrum auction in the country at the soonest. Unfortunately, the reason why the 5G spectrum auction has been delayed in India is because it’s too expensive for telecom companies. India’s debt-ridden operators are still reeling under the pressure to keep 4G costs low.
But, there may be hope on the horizon. Recently, IT and telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that the much-awaited trials for 5G technologies will commence soon and the Indian government is looking into new ways to price the spectrum to accommodate the requests of the telecom companies at the virtual India Mobile Congress (IMC) this year. This can help telcos to start bringing 5G solutions to customers.
Meanwhile, as the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) announced the auction dates for the 4G airwaves spectrum in India in March, with a base price of $53.3 billion. the government, telcos and businesses are already pinning their hopes on the fifth-generation technology.
To recall, Reliance Industries Chairman and Managing Director Mukesh Ambani, announced during India Mobile Congress 2020, that Jio will roll out its 5G services in India in the second half of 2021. Reliance Jio has partnered with Qualcomm to build its 5G infrastructure in India. Likewise, Airtel and Vi have named Nokia and Ericsson for their trails. BSNL, on the other hand, has partnered with state-run Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DoT) for setting up its 5G infrastructure.
5G will undoubtedly force a wave of innovation around mobile technology, analytics, data centers, cloud and IoT implementation. While the deployments are likely to be ambiguous at least in the initial years, as most 5G technologies are not yet proven at scale and nor is the cost of investment completely justified, 5G can be touted as a game changer for organizations. And enterprises need to get their heads around 5G, because it is coming their way.