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How will 5G change our lives, and what are challenges to look out for?

A friend of mine recently travelled to Singapore and did a speed test of 5G services on his mobile phone, he was stunned to notice download speeds averaging over 500 Mbps. One can only imagine the possibilities of an India where even a citizen in a remote village has the power of 500 Mbps internet speeds in their hands, and that day isn’t far away.

These are exciting times, as telecom companies of India have planned a 5G rollout through the installation of at least 160,000 towers per operator before the end of next year. It was a journey that has been in the works since August 2018 – starting with the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) issuing recommendations on 5G auctions, and recently celebrating a milestone with the first commercial 5G network being launched on October 1 by the Prime Minister.

India already has more than 70 million citizens with 5G-compatible phones. As of October, the government estimates that at least 80% of the country will have 5G coverage.

5G is set to be ten times faster than current 4G LTE networks, this increase in speed will allow IoT devices to communicate and share data faster than ever, leading to ultra-low latencies. Latency is the time taken for a task to be executed from the time it has been given. What this means is that remote actions can be performed in real time.

Imagine a doctor from San Francisco being able to conduct a critical surgery on a patient in Bengaluru, or the police being able to manage driverless vehicles through a disaster zone. All of these are just a few of the possibilities with 5G.

Additionally, 5G networks will serve as the base for critical infrastructures that facilitate better digitization, automation and connectivity to machines and robots. 5G is also set to propel technological advancement and its adoption, especially the Internet of things and Artificial Intelligence, to new heights.

From the purview of network security, 5G will also boost AI adoption in the field of autonomous security management, this is due to its potential to uncover hidden patterns from large sets of data in a time-bound manner, to deliver faster, accurate, or even real-time decisions, in the event of a breach.

What will be required for 5G implementation?

5G in India will mostly be driven by Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), Massive Machine Type Communication (mMTC) and Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communication (URLLC). Site densification would also be a necessity, as 5G rests on the 3300 C-band. Fiberization would be a critical factor to play to deliver the expected 5G outcome. Currently, only 22-25% of networks in India are fiberized, with a large concentration in urban areas. The goal is to drastically increase scale in tier-2 and tier-3 areas. With a hybrid work culture now becoming mainstream thanks to the pandemic, there is a further impetus to provide 5G solutions in semi-urban areas to cater to the needs of a developing nation.

Perhaps a major hindrance here is how fibre sharing is still unexplored in the country, though the concept of tower sharing is already present. This is critical, as it will dictate the next wave of cost reduction in the telecommunications industry, hence making the technology available to a larger audience. Cost reduction methods such as sharing of towers and fibres are also of high interest for telecom operators, as the price of 5G spectrum is an added cost to be incurred by operators in a hyper competitive market.

What are the challenges in implementation?

Cybersecurity challenges are what makes 5G a double-edged sword, especially from the purview of AI and IoT. Telecom networks today are evolving rapidly across a broad technological environment, which is now met by an equally broad and an increasingly challenging cybersecurity landscape.

With IoT, a new set of challenges are brought to the fore. One major concern is the security, safety and robustness of physical security systems. Not only cybersecurity, but the costs of 5G handsets could also limit 5G adoption in rural areas to some extent. Most 5G handsets start upwards of Rs.15,000, which is still out of reach for most rural citizens. But in a couple of years from now, we expect to notice a considerable increase in affordable smartphones, which will propel 5G even further.

According to a survey by The World Mobile Data Pricing 2022, Indians paid around Rs.14 per GB of data, making it the fifth cheapest country in the world for mobile data plans. However, the high infrastructure costs for 5G might also mean that users will initially have to pay a higher price for 5G services, with the price of spectrum in India higher than those in other countries. To counter this, telecom providers should consider bundling services for premium markets, and also build plans for price sensitive markets, so that 5G can truly be democratised. Once 5G rollout begins and adoption happens at scale, we should be able to see more cheaper price bands.

According to latest research, enterprises will gain the most from the 5G boom, predicted to generate $17 billion in incremental revenue by 2030. This will mostly be driven by the adoption of 5G in energy and utilities, ICT, retail and manufacturing sectors. Other use cases that will see 5G transform the industry are public safety, traffic control, better port logistics, better machine to machine communication and learning in manufacturing.

In conclusion, 5G has opened a new area of connectivity where digitisation can be driven into every aspect of business processes. Edge computing, private networks and IoT will also see businesses that have shied away from building their digital footprint dive deep into digitisation, a majority of these will come from companies with physical assets and more traditional industries. The time is ripe for the ecosystem to closely work together, monitor challenges, and lay out plans to mitigate the same for a smarter rollout of 5G over the coming years.



(This article is written by Devesh Garg, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer, Summit Digitel, and the views expressed in this article are his own)

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