5G Rollout - A Crucial Moment for the Indian Telecom Sector
Telecommunication is 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. Over the last few years, the industry has grown exponentially, 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 government has underlined the importance of increasing India’s local telecom manufacturing capabilities. Efforts are also underway to build a foundational network in India for the introduction of 5G technology.
Source: Telecom Regulatory Authority of India
The 5G technology is the next-generation wireless communication standard, connecting gadgets, machines, enterprises and people. While 4G networks were primarily intended for phone use, 5G networks are intended for much more flexible use, eliminating the need for several specialised networks. They can even operate as multiple distinct networks at the same time.
5G rollout in India
The concept of 5G networks in India first came up in 2017, when the government organised a high-level forum to develop a path for the 5G technology in India. The timeline for the 5G rollout is as follows:
Given the journey of 5G in India, which is currently picking up pace, a much clearer picture of the future leading up to the 5G debut in India can be constructed.
5G drive towards innovation and its applications
Once the vision of 5G in India is realised, it will drive digital revolution in India, transforming 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 plans to bring in nine structural and five procedural reforms in the telecom sector. The Department of Telecommunications permitted various telecom service providers (TSPs) to conduct trials for the use and application of 5G technology in India.
The government has taken the following 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’. These agencies include Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay, IIT Delhi, IIT Hyderabad, IIT Madras, IIT Kanpur, Indian Institute of Science (IISC) Bangalore, Society for Applied Microwave Electronics Engineering & Research (SAMEER) and Centre of Excellence in Wireless Technology (Citi).
- The Department of Telecom funds the 5G test bed initiative and has incurred a cost of Rs 224 crore (US$ 30.2 million).
- The government began the first 5G in India spectrum auction, with the Telecom Regulation 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.
- The Indian government plans to make 5G available in the following 13 locations throughout the country: Gurugram, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chandigarh, Delhi, Jamnagar, Ahmadabad, Chennai, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Pune and Gandhi Nagar.
- The Department of Telecom has allotted a spectrum for 5G testing to Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio, Vodafone Idea and MTNL.
In addition, the government is also working on the following projects to improve internet penetration and connectivity in the country:
- Service delivery in villages through BharatNet: The flagship BharatNet project is being implemented in stages to give broadband access to 2.6 lakh gram panchayats (GPs) in the country. By laying 5,52,514 km of optical fibre cable (OFC), 1,79,247 GPs have been linked and 1,61,870 GPs are service-ready.
- Mobile tower installation in LWE-affected areas: The government installed mobile towers at 2,343 locations to enable mobile connection in areas afflicted by left wing extremism (LWE), and these towers are already providing mobile services.
- Deployment of 50,000 access points by PM-WANI: On 9 December 2020, the government accepted a proposal to expand Internet access through public Wi-Fi networks within the context of the Prime Minister’s Wi-Fi Access Network Interface (PM-WANI). The user experience and quality of service for broadband are projected to increase dramatically with public Wi-Fi broadband.
- Online licencing for spectrum use: This effort was established on 29th June 2021 to allow online licencing for spectrum use in experiments, demonstrations and testing requirements.
The Atmanirbhar Bharat programme is a significant driver for addressing present and future technology needs in the telecom sector. The sector is predicted to contribute 8% of India’s GDP in 2022, up from 6.5% currently. It is also anticipated that 5G technology will add US$ 450 billion to the Indian economy between 2023 and 2040. The potential of 5G in India is genuinely transformative. Once built, it will accommodate up to one million connected devices per square kilometer compared with only 2,000 under 4G long-term evolution. With such unprecedented levels of connection and 5G Internet, 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.