During a panel discussion on 'reality or hype around 5G' at BT MindRush 2021, the who's who of India's telecom industry agreed that the new technology will lead to overall economic development by penetrating rural and semi-urban areas.
Dr PD Vaghela, Chairman, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), said 5G will open up endless probabilities, possibilities and opportunities. It will utilise IoT and M-to-M applications with high speed and low latency. "The beauty of 5G lies in the fact that the same network will be able to deliver the three distinct categories for used cases simultaneously -- enhanced broadband proving very high speed, massive machine pipe communication, and ultra-reliance low latency," he said during a panel discussion on BT MindRush 2021.
He said 5G will enable endless possibilities in agriculture as well, and its most optimum use will be in precision farming. From soil and crop monitoring to livestock monitoring and agricultural drones to telemedicine and robotic surgeries in healthcare, the possibilities are endless with 5G, he said. Energy, the industrial revolution, autonomous vehicles, smart cities, there are numerous uses. Vaghela said there was a need to engage with solution providers, start-up companies and the sector users to deliberate upon customised use cases specific to India.
The government's intent is clear, but are telcos ready for it? "5G will necessarily need a lot and a lot of optic fibre deployment. Connecting telecom towers to optic fibres is going to become a serious impediment if not tackled very quickly. Secondly, within cities, densification of network required will be vast. The third is the cost of 5G," said Akhil Gupta, Vice-Chairman, Bharti Enterprises.
He said network cost will come down under being a second-mover, earlier problems have been settled and so network cost is not a serious problem. "My biggest worry, despite our national digitisation policy clearly saying that with 5G, it's not aiming for revenue but deeper penetration is the high reserve price kept for the auction of 5G."
He said the biggest impediment for all operators will be spectrum cost and all stakeholders need to work together towards addressing these challenges. Shyam Mardikar, President, Reliance Jio, said unlike 4G, where the only offering to the customer was the connectivity portion, 5G will offer more than that. "I call it the trinity of telecommunication -- it is connectivity, compute and storage. All three go hand in hand when we extend 5G."
He said that apart from high spectrum cost, the other challenge for telcos is to seamlessly deploy infrastructure support. He said the government will have to help ensure there's a seamless implementation of infrastructure.
Prashant Singhal, Emerging Markets TMT Sector Leader, EY, said India's telecommunication policy says the objective is to make the country a hub of export and innovation, and 5G offers that opportunity. "Faster adoption to 5G will help us create that hub where we could be innovating use cases - as we talked about healthcare, education, which can cater to the larger population."
On high spectrum prices, Singhal asked why India can't go back to the old regime of the administrative spectrum. "Japan has done it, China has done it, so why can't we do that?" he asked. Instead of coming up with spectrum auction, the money that is there for auction can be then utilised with rollout obligations so that 5G reaches the rural world in India, which requires faster development, he said.
On the question of where will the 5G equipment come from, at a time when the Centre has taken a firm stand against Chinese telecom equipment makers, Gupta said that's not a worry because if Chinese are not there to offer 5G equipment services, open rank system and other manufacturers will fill the gap. "The cost is also not going to be a problem," he added.
Mardikar said Reliance Jio does not use any Chinese equipment even for 4G technology. "The point is that a network can be created on this scale and this size, and we bought it all at competitive prices."
Gupta said while it's true that 5G will allow India usher into new era, there was no need to glorify it to an extent that it would be the saviour. Singhal said 5G may not solve all the problems but will add immensely to the development of the Indian economy, like 4G.
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