5G technology in India will have a domestic essence

Author — Lokesh Dahiya (LinkedIn)

India’s 5G rollout may be delayed, but the domestic players are ready to capture the opportunity in both software and the hardware.

Around 26% (33 crores) of the mobile subscriptions in India by 2026-end would be 5G, as per Ericsson Mobility Report. What sets 5G technology apart is its ability to deliver higher multi-Gbps data 5G speed, massive bandwidth and network capacity, ultra-low latency, better availability and more reliability than any other mobile network. According to Ookla insights, the launch of 5G network in India has the potential to increase the median download speeds (5G vs. 4G-LTE) up to 10 times from the current position within a 95% confidence interval. IoT, AI, smart buildings, self-driving cars, automated factories, AR/VR experiences, ultra-HD live streaming, telesurgery, etc. are all being made possible thanks to a 5G network’s Enhanced Mobile Broadband (EMBB), Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communication (URLLC) & Machine Machine-type Communication (MMTC).

However, India is still in the development and trial phase, while 61 countries worldwide already had up and running commercial 5G networks by the beginning of 2021. 5G in India first came into the conversation in 2017 when the government set-up a high-level forum to chalk out a roadmap towards a 5G India by 2020. There was an increased emphasis on encouraging homegrown telecom equipment manufacturers to participate in the 5G India trials. Amid the border standoff with China last year and concerns over security, the government decided to keep Chinese players, major ones being Huawei and ZTE, out of the 5G trials in India. The Rs 12,195 crore production linked incentive scheme would also be a significant boost for the sector and more players may pitch in to manufacture equipment and network devices in India. The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) granted permission to Airtel, Reliance Jio, Vodafone Idea Ltd on May 27, 2021, and MTNL on June 23, 2021, to conduct 5G Technology trials in the 700MHz, 3.5GHz, and 26GHz bands. The 5G auctions would take place later this year.

Several partnerships in the telecom space have been announced. TCS will implement the 5G solutions it has developed for Airtel, starting pilot in Jan 2022. Last year, Airtel extended its multi-year contract with Ericsson for deploying a 5G-ready radio network. Tata Group has developed 5G solutions using Open-Radio Access Network (O-RAN), a part of telecommunication architecture. Tata Sons’ subsidiary Panatone Finvest acquired a controlling stake (43.3%) in telecom equipment maker Tejas Networks. Vodafone Idea in June announced a collaboration with Cisco to improve its existing 4G network and 5G use cases going ahead. In June, Reliance’s Jio partnered with Qualcomm to manufacture 5G equipment. Jio has also indigenously developed 5G Radio integrated with Jio’s 5G core network and is developing of in-house Massive MIMO and indoor 5G small cells. Tech Mahindra, Sterlite Technologies Ltd and state-run ITI Ltd are also among the Indian companies which have come up with 5G expertise. Companies such as Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung and Qualcomm are already making hardware in India.

Ajay Prakash Sawhney, Secretary of Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), said, “…As 5G starts taking shape in India, one thing that we would like to enable is manufacturing in India so that it is not only the users of 5G in India but also the manufacturers and providers of these technologies who can make a mark in the global arena.” India’s 5G network will ride on technology and hardware developed by local companies, big and small, and is slated for commercial launch by August 15 next year to coincide with the 75th anniversary of Independence.