India poised to enter the new 5G era

TELECOM subscribers in India, a hassled lot for decades, are expecting much better services in the future. There was a ray of hope last week of a possible and significant improvement in telephone services over the next three to four years.

The Indian government set up ‘a high-level forum’ comprising bureaucrats and telecom experts, to elevate the country into the 5G era in just three years.

“We have created a high-level 5G forum that will work on the vision, mission and goals of 5G service in the country,” declared Manoj Sinha, the telecoms minister. “When the world will roll out 5G in 2020, I believe India will be at par with it.”

The proposed 5G India 2020 Forum — with access to a Rs5 billion support fund — would be headed by Aruna Sundarajan, the telecom secretary, and also include Ajay Kumar Sawhney, the IT secretary, and Ashutosh Sharma, secretary, department of science and technology, and some experts.

Sinha admits that India missed the opportunity in steering itself into 3G and 4G technologies, but now the government wants to capitalise on the opportunities.

“We will make efforts to develop globally competitive products and manufacture them here with a target of getting 50 per cent of the India market and 10pc of the global market over the next 5-7 years,” declared the minister.

The government aims to provide extremely high-speed broadband services, ranging from 1,000 mbps in rural areas to 10,000 mpbs in urban localities with the introduction of 5G service.

Despite dramatic changes in telecommunications technology, India has lagged behind many other countries in providing seamless telecom services to consumers.

The Indian government set up ‘a high-level forum’ comprising bureaucrats and telecom experts, to elevate the country into the 5G era in just three years

Of course, things have changed in recent years and most consumers do not have to wait for long for accessing services.

There was a time state-owned telecom operators — there were just two — provided terrible services to consumers. If one was powerful — an elected official or a public servant — the services would be improved; others just had to bear it out, or pay bribes to get them restored.

Today, things are different. Access to mobile phones has become simple and a consumer gets access within hours of buying the handset and paying for the services.

Yet, despite the rolling out of 3G and 4G services, millions still complain of appalling service standards. Using handsets while on road or travelling by trains is a nightmarish experience as connections often get disrupted.

Even in overcrowded cities and congested localities, getting clear voice service is a formidable challenge and many consumers just have to wait patiently for services to improve.

THE new telecom regime that will dawn on the country was the subject of

discussion last week in Delhi, as telecom bigwigs from the country and abroad joined at the maiden India Mobile Congress (IMC) and appeared bullish on the prospects for the sector, despite the current gloomy scenario.

Earlier this month, the two leading players — Reliance Jio, controlled by Mukesh Ambani, and Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman, Bharti Enterprises (which operates Airtel) — were engaged in a bitter fight, continuing with their year-old battle over the launch of Reliance’s virtually free 4G services in the country.

Bharti Airtel had earlier written to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), claiming it had suffered a loss of about Rs68bn over the past five years (on present value basis) because of low cost interconnection usage charges (IUC).

Reliance Jio — which entered the market last year and virtually transformed it by offering extremely low tariffs to millions of consumers, but at the same time devastating the industry — has accused Airtel of purposely misrepresenting facts to create a smokescreen and hide allegedly ill-gotten profits.

Reliance had claimed that existing operators (which also includes Vodafone and Idea Cellular) had benefitted by about a trillion rupees over the last five years following non-implementation of a TRAI report.

At the IMC meet, Ambani pointed out that India had missed on the first three industrial revolutions. But it is now well poised to take part in the fourth revolution — the telecom — and “data is the new oil, and India does not need to import it.”

According to Ambani, the pace of growth of India’s mobile phone industry is “unparalleled in the world,” and would help trigger India’s economic growth, taking it to the $7 trillion level from the current one of $2.5tr.

Mittal pointed out that while investments in hard physical infrastructure took time to materialise, the government had rightly pitched the digital platform as a key transformer for the country.

India will emerge as one of the leading telecom markets in the world, but industry alone won’t be able to do it, he pointed out. Government policies will decide how fast the country moves forward.

Bharti Airtel, which continues to be the largest telecom service provider in India, plans to deploy a ‘massive multiple-input multiple-output’ (MIMO) technology, which would help the shift to the 5G network.

According to a company spokesperson, it is a pre-5G technology that will make the network future ready for meeting the data demand coming from digital revolution and data explosion in India. The new technology will expand existing network capacity by five to seven times using the existing spectrum, thereby improving efficiency.

The company would initially be implementing MIMO in Bengaluru and Kolkata, before rolling it out in other parts of India.

Many other Asian countries are also planning to launch 5G services soon. Pakistan, for instance, aims to be the first to test the fifth-generation cellular services in South Asia.

South Korea, Japan and China are also joining hands to do further research on 5G frequencies.


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