Will India get 5G before 2022?
The communication revolution ushered in the 1980s when first-generation technology made communication via mobile phone possible. We have come a long way since then. 2G (2nd Generation), 3G and then 4G/LTE followed in 1991, 2001 and 2009 respectively. The world now stands on the brink of another leap in mobile communication technology - the 5th Generation or 5G. But for India, it still seems a long wait to embrace 5G fully. Let’s take a look at the reasons and consider options that could reduce the wait.
What is 5G?
5G is the 5th generation of mobile communications technology. 5G will be up to 600 times faster than 4G/LTE communication, leading to data speeds of 10 GB per second. Additionally, 5G will reduce the latency to under 1ms, virtually making any delay negligible. With 5G enabled cell towers having more capacity compared to 4G/LTE towers, more devices and people will be connected on a similar infrastructure. This technology has the capacity to transform and enable more uses for M2M, IoT, autonomous driving and AR/VR which is an exciting possibility.
Why is 5G important for India?
Cloud computing and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are technologies that are increasingly being used across the country. Most of the data is now stored in clouds and a variety of industries are using AI and machine learning to give consumers an enhanced experience. Internet of Things (IoT) has already started becoming an integral part, though minimal at this stage, of the internet cosmos of India. The 2017 Digital India program aims at connecting 100% of the population to the internet with an aim of utilising the digital medium to give citizens a platform to better their lives and to increase the country’s potential.
With these technologies increasing their capabilities and becoming more and more relevant to the overall digital experience, 5G will proffer farther reach, better speeds and improved reliability in their handling. Due to the simple fact that 5G can connect more devices and enable larger communication at the same time, the Digital India program will also get a big push in achieving its aim of 100% connectivity.
While we are already using technology to track and analyse our health, in near future, any discrepancy in our health can be tracked and attended to directly by medical experts.
On the other hand, 5G will hugely aid in enabling analytics of real-time surveillance. Especially when we are short of about half a million police personnel according to a Bureau of Police Research & Development. Also, a 5G Power network would enable smarter parking services that will enable an automated process of tracking parking hours and billing, and railroad crossings can become much safer with a public safety service deployed.
Optical Fibre – The Backbone of 5G
One of the core requirements of 5G technology is sprawling optical fibre connectivity. Optical fibres are more reliable, extremely cost-effective and offer faster speed and hence enable data transmission speeds that 5G possesses. In addition, some of the other vital characteristics of optical fibres are limitless bandwidth, low power loss, easy transmission of signals over long distance, resistance to electromagnetic interference, noise free transmission, to name a few. Also, the fact that in fibre optic transmission, data or signals are transmitted via light, there is no security risk of electromagnetic energy leaking through the cable.
The Issues in Getting 5G to India
In India, the issues with upgrading to a better technology are high cost and limited availability of spectrum, the lowest average revenue per user globally and very costly, arduous Right of Way (RoW) procedure to expand optical fibre cables.
Although there are nearly 6,00,000 towers in India, interestingly only 15% of them are connected via optical fibre. This figure is extremely low as compared to the 65-80% optical fibre connectivity in countries like USA, China and Japan. To build an infrastructure that can enable a complete upgrade to 5G, the investment required is significant and needs to come from all quarters. Along with the investment, procurement of land for building the infrastructure will be necessary to ensure safety of the fibres and other equipment. Right of Way (RoW) is also an integral part of the process and requires a lot of time to be studied, regulations formulated and then to be transferred to eligible providers.
These issues collectively contribute to the long wait that India will see in getting 5G. But some of these can be mitigated by effective partnering with available utilities infrastructure.
Partnering with Utilities is the Way Ahead
Various telcos have partnered successfully with utilities to use the latter’s infrastructure of OPGW and transmission towers to improve reach and connectivity. For 5G, we can look at partnering similarly right from the beginning.
As of Dec 2018, India has a total of 4,05,944 kms of transmission lines that reach into some of the deepest corners of the country. Most of it being optical fibres, it can be used to mitigate the construction of infrastructure and the required investment. Using the transmission and distribution network, telcos can ensure 5G connectivity via underground or overhead electricity wires directly to homes and offer end–to–end solutions for better customer experience.
Fibre Network Deployment
Fibre deployment via utilities requires little additional work. The utility infrastructure for core electrical services is very similar to the fibre network architecture. Therefore, the fibre network can optimize the existing transmission network to avoid unnecessary infrastructure deployment, thereby lowering the overall cost of fibre network deployment.
Such a large-scale partnering will reduce the time required significantly. Apart from the reduction in time and investment, another advantage of using transmission system for telecom network is that it remains rodent menace free and vandalism proof. Hence, saving cost on maintenance and repair.
Yet another advantage of this partnership is that transmission lines offer network availability higher than 99.5%. This helps to address the complex and existing challenges in this sector by tackling the key constraints of time, space and capital.
Unlocking the transformative power of digital communications networks in India requires reliable and high-speed communication networks to be built in the shortest time span. This takes away the time of RoW, construction, testing and maintenance of a separate data transmission network.
A Case in Point – SIRO, Ireland
A good example of utility, telco and government coming together to accelerate fibre development at a national level is one of SIRO in Ireland. ESB, the electrical utility in Ireland that is engaged in power generation, transmission, and distribution, set up SIRO - a 50-50 joint venture with Vodafone, to roll out fibre network expansion in the regional and rural areas of Ireland. Earlier in these areas, despite the demand for high-speed broadband, high costs of network roll-out limited the broadband reach. With this joint venture, ESB can now save on investment and risks, as it assures monetization of the new network via Vodafone. It can also monetize it by offering wholesale open access to all telecom operators. For Vodafone, the largest fixed-mobile operator in Ireland, the partnership lowered the cost of reaching customers.
A partnership like this in India has the potential to reduce the current timeline by at least a year and a half and we can wish of having 5G by 2020, as opposed to the estimated 2022. A convergence of utilities, telecom companies, and government can result in saving space, time, and capital required to ensure high-broadband connectivity that is essential for future economic growth.
N. K. Panda - Business Head Convergence, Sterlite Power
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s/) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Sterlite Power.