Beginning Saturday, India will get 5G mobile services — almost five years after the country took its first steps towards the launch of the next generation of mobile telephony. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will launch 5G in select cities on October 1, while inaugurating the sixth edition of India Mobile Congress in New Delhi.
What has been India’s journey towards launching 5G?
In 2017, the government had set up a high-level forum comprising representatives from the industry, academia, government and regulators to evaluate and approve the country’s roadmap for rolling out 5G. The main agenda of this forum was to keep India’s roadmap for 5G aligned with the global standards so as to prevent the lack of homogeneity in global telecom networks that was witnessed in services up till 4G.
The forum, headed by Stanford University’s Professor AJ Paulraj submitted its report in 2018 and suggested focus on areas including spectrum policy, regulatory policy, application and use-case labs for developing locally-tailored solutions. And while research and development for 5G applications continued, the government started allocating spectrum to telecom operators to conduct trials. By 2019, the telecom department and the sector regulator TRAI started considerations on spectrum pricing. In August this year, the government concluded auctioning of 5G spectrum — in what was one of the final steps towards launching the services.
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Which operators will roll out 5G services and where?
While the government has not specified the cities that the PM will first launch 5G services in, telecom operators have revealed how they plan to roll out 5G services on their network. Reliance Jio, which was the top spender at this year’s 5G spectrum auctions bidding an amount of more than Rs 88,000 crore, said in August that it will roll out high-speed mobile internet services on its 5G network by Diwali in metro cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata by Diwali this year. Bharti Airtel which was the second highest spender in the auction has said that 5G will be available on its network in all urban parts of the country by the end of 2023. Also, the company said that 5G will be available in towns and key rural areas by March 2024.
What are the benefits of 5G?
The Ministry of Communications said in a statement: “5G can unleash new economic opportunities and societal benefits giving it the potential for being a transformational force for Indian society … The cumulative economic impact of 5G on India is expected to reach $450 billion by 2035.” For consumers, 5G could have benefits owing to the superior Internet speed and low latency it promises over 4G. At its peak, internet speeds on 5G could touch 10 Gbps, compared to the 100 Mbps peak of 4G. Similarly, latency under 4G is between 10-100 ms (millisecond) whereas on 5G it is expected to be under 1 ms. Latency is the time it takes for a device to send packets of data and get a response. Shorter the latency, quicker the response.
Are the operators launching 5G on the same technology?
5G networks are deployed mainly on two modes: standalone and non-standalone. Both architectures have their advantages and disadvantages, and the path chosen by operators primarily reflects their view of the market for the new technology, and the consequent rollout strategy.
In the standalone mode, which Jio has chosen, the 5G network operates with dedicated equipment, and runs parallel to the existing 4G network, while in the non-standalone mode, the 5G network is supported by the 4G core infrastructure. Given that the non-standalone networks are built on existing infrastructure, the initial cost and the time taken to roll out services through this track is significantly less than standalone networks. Jio has committed an investment of Rs 2 lakh crore for its standalone 5G network.
Non-standalone networks are generally considered to be a stepping stone, and global precedent suggests operators that have launched non-standalone 5G networks eventually transition to standalone networks. The non-standalone mode, which Bharti Airtel has opted for, lets operators maximise the utilisation of their existing network infrastructure with relatively lower investment. The biggest difference in the two architectures is the compatibility with existing device ecosystems. Most smartphones today have capability to connect to non-standalone 5G networks — which are essentially 5G airwaves transmitted through 4G networks — and will require software updates by their OEMs to be able to connect to standalone networks.