5G FWA combined with satellite broadband will reach difficult-to-connect remote and rural areas: Sylwia Kechiche, Principal Analyst, Ookla

The rollout of 5G services in India will give a major leg up to users with internet speeds likely to go up by at least four-five times of 4G levels. Talking about 5G to CXOToday principal analyst Sylwia Kechiche said that for Indian consumers, 5G will represent a step-change in experience over current LTE networks, providing the bandwidth and latency to enjoy uninterrupted access to services such as high-definition video streaming, mobile gaming, and video calling on the go.


  1. Will there be an improvement with 5G in upload speeds? 

Yes, we expect 5G to enable faster upload speeds that are currently available on LTE networks. Based on Speedtest Intelligence data, we can see that operators have been testing their networks before launching 5G networks on October 1st. We have recently commented on how the download speeds have reached 500 Mbps on the 5G test network. Based on the same early 5G data from Speedtest Intelligence, we can see that the median 5G upload speed during September 2022 was 26.64 Mbps compared to a median upload speed of 3.22 Mbps on an LTE network. Based on our data, we can see that 5G brings a significant improvement. 5G Median Upload Speed was 684% (7.84 times) better than LTE during September 2022.


  1. Satellite internet vs 5G- Which one do you think India needs in the current telecom state? 

There is room for both network technologies as India’s fixed broadband penetration is still relatively low at 9.1% of households as per TRAI data. 5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) combined with satellite broadband will be able to reach difficult-to-connect remote and rural areas. Thanks to the emergence of LEO (Low Earth Orbit), satellite technology can provide access to areas outside 5G coverage. On the other hand, FWA will use 5G as the last-mile technology to provide broadband connectivity. 5G FWA has already been very successful in the United States, and there is a growing interest in India too. Jio announced that it will launch Jio AirFibre, a plug-and-play device connected to Jio’s 5G network that will act as a hotspot. While the exact launch date is still unknown, the operator revealed that it targets 100 million households with its 5G FWA offer.


  1. Please elaborate Ookla’s role in 5G spectrum analysis and recommendations to Indian telcos?

As we measure network performance around the world, we can see the impact of new technology and the allocation of new spectrum resources as they are deployed. There are two key considerations to understanding the 5G spectrum: performance and geographical coverage. For example, mmWave spectrum is capable of delivering super-fast speeds (thinking Gigabits), but is limited in terms of range. Low band (sub-1GHz) spectrum can travel farther, cover a greater geographical region, and provide deeper penetration within buildings. But, low band spectrum cannot deliver true 5G speeds. The so-called “sweet spot” for 5G is mid-band spectrum (1-6 GHz spectrum, and in particular C-band), which offers the best of both worlds in terms of coverage and capacity

During the recent 5G spectrum auction, Jio acquired the most spectrum, especially in the highly sought-after C-band spectrum. Additionally, Jio was the only operator that acquired the 700 MHz band. This gives Reliance Jio an advantage compared to providers who have acquired only C-band, especially since the low-band spectrum allows for better indoor signal penetration in urban areas and also better coverage in rural areas.

In our recent analysis, we have commented on how Jio and Airtel’s spectrum holdings have affected their performance. Jio’s 5G network using C-band (n=78) results in performance ranging between 606.53 Mbps and 875.26 Mbps median download speed. While 5G networks using the lower – 700 MHz frequency band (n=28) so-called coverage band gives speeds lower than 100 Mbps median download speed, ranging between 78.69 Mbps and 95.13 Mbps. Airtel on the other hand, achieved speeds from 365.48 Mbps to 716.85 Mbps deploying 5G utilizing only its C-band spectrum holding.

  1. What are the significant changes in internet usage in India? 

There are over half a billion internet users in India, making it the second-largest online market worldwide, just behind China. India made significant progress in terms of mobile broadband growth. One of the key reasons behind the acceleration in adoption was the launch of the Digital India initiative in 2015, which made government services digitally available to citizens. Digital India’s goal is to transform India into a digital society and economy. Since its launch, almost 270 million Indians have been connected to the internet via mobile internet. This was enabled by the expansion of mobile broadband networks, particularly 4G technology. Despite the progress, some challenges in the mass adoption of broadband connection include infrastructure deployment, digital literacy, and affordable devices.


  1. How does Ookla see 5G impacting India’s overall market?

For Indian consumers, 5G will represent a step-change in experience over current LTE networks, providing the bandwidth and latency to enjoy uninterrupted access to services such as high-definition video streaming, mobile gaming, and video calling on the go. Our Consumer Survey found that 89% of Indian smartphone users are ready to upgrade to 5G. It also revealed that if mobile internet connections were better, 70% of respondents would increase their use of video streaming, while 68% stated they would boost their mobile gaming. Better connectivity will also have a wider-reaching effect on a consumer’s ability to communicate more often. That’s especially true for social media and using phones for work, which are currently the top two use cases among consumers in India. Meanwhile, other consumer behaviors, such as online shopping, mobile money, and watching esports aren’t impacted as much by high network speeds. Indeed, just over half of the respondents said they would use these services for the same amount of time, despite network upgrades.

For enterprises, 5G will be an enabler of digital transformation of the industry verticals, as Ericsson’s recent survey shows. However, 5G will also deliver wider socioeconomic benefits in India, on account of several 5G use cases that could enable new applications across all sectors. According to GSMA Intelligence, 5G is expected to contribute around $455 billion to the Indian economy over the next 20 years, accounting for more than 0.6% of GDP by 2040. One of the sectors that stands to benefit from 5G is the manufacturing sector, representing 20% of the total benefit. Retail, ICT, and agricultural sectors should also benefit. The Indian government has already zeroed in on making India’s manufacturing sector more competitive on a global scene. As such, the “Make in India” goal is to make India self-reliant, as well as increase the share of the manufacturing sector to 25% of GDP.

  1. How do you think satcom will disrupt the telecom industry dynamics?

For many years, satellite transmission has connected a range of enterprise verticals in India, such as banking, logistics, and transport. Globally, satellite already plays an important role in providing network backhaul for 2G, 3G, and 4G technologies in rural and remote areas. Starting in July 2021, after the approval by the Digital Communications Commission, satellite providers can provide cellular backhaul in India too, including Bharti-owned OneWeb.

Our recent analysis shows that LEO satellites benefit from lower latency. Therefore, they will be well suited to offer not only backhaul, but also direct connectivity. There are several players ready to take advantage of this opportunity, with the launch expected next year. Jio Satellite Communication, a unit of Reliance Jio, received a license from the Department of Communication (DoT) to offer a satellite-based communication service. OneWeb, which also holds such a license, partnered with NewSpace India (NSIL), the commercial arm of the national space agency to launch in India later this month. Elon Musk’s Space X-owned Starlink is also interested in entering the market. As the 5G standard is adopted, new markets will open up for satellite operators beyond connectivity, including IoT, private 5G, and cellular backhaul for densification to enable more cell sites and edge devices.

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