5G is around the corner...and there is an ever-increasing euphoria amongst the Telecom Service Providers (TSPs), the TMT ecosystem and the consumer community at large at the vast opportunities 5G will bring. Simply put, 5G is expected to be significantly smarter, faster and efficient compared to its legacy 3G and 4G predecessors. For instance, it holds a promise of 100 times more speed relative to 4G networks. The possibilities, with a network like this, are unfathomable.
The launch of 5G-enabled technologies is expected to be transformative in the telco and other industries by unlocking various disruptive new technologies. Global investment in the 5G industrial chain over 2020-2035 is likely to reach US$ 3.5 trillion. More than US$12 trillion sales are expected to be generated by global industry applications driven by 5G technology.
5G has the potential to become the world's predominant LAN and WAN technology over the couple of decades, especially in green-field rollouts. Organisations building new factories, ports, or campuses can significantly reduce their usage of wired connections. The next five years will likely see a boom in private 5G implementations at locations that would greatly benefit from better wireless technology-in terms of speed, capacity, latency, and more. Application and installation of the Private Networks could vary from a manufacturing facility, buildings, large campuses, notified or designated locations within geographies, healthcare and in mining sectors for autonomous mobility in areas where it is dangerous for humans to enter.
Closer to home, we expect significant application in 5G enabled internet of things - across smart cities and industry 4.0 use cases. Globally, these two areas account for nearly 44 per cent of 5G applications. Other applications likely to gain scale in India at a later date with enhancement in the coverage and technology are sensor based crop monitoring, remote machinery control, surveillance, energy management and smart transport.
In a recent digital competitiveness ranking survey conducted by Institute for Management Development (IMD) in 2019, India ranked at 48th out of a total of 63 economies. However, recent events such as demonetisation and low mobility price points are leap-frogging India in a pervasive digital adoption. India's digital communication policy is trying to create a conducive environment to promote investments, and policy support to increase the digital footprint. The current policies set directions to lay foundations for the 5G ecosystem with the aim to:
- Enhance contribution of the digital communication sector to 8 per cent of the India's GDP
- Propel India to the top 50 nations in the ICT development index of ITU
- Policy landscape to steer the growth of digital revolution - National Digital Communication Policy (NDCP) 2018 aiming at US$ 100 billionn investment in the sector and ensuring broadband coverage at 50 mbps for every citizen, Draft Cloud Computing policy, Electronic Development Fund (EDF) policy, National Manufacturing policy and Preferential Market Access (PMA)
Through building partnerships, R&D investments and network trials, industry-specific service requirements are being currently assessed that will require high data-rate communication, low latency, and massive connectivity. 5G is being seen as a likely game changer for India, with the potential to create an economic impact of more than US$1 trillion by 2035.
India is keen to board the 5G bus sooner than later. The task before India's policy makers will be ensure that the advantages of the telecom infrastructure and related technologies supports its divergent demography, economic conditions and urbanisation. Key areas to focus will include:
- Reasonable spectrum pricing and swift allocation of spectrum
- Policy framework enabling extensive fiberisation and incentivisation to share fiber networks
- Push for "Make in India" manufacturing for 5G equipment and handsets
- Tailor made 5G use cases and applications enabled through active trials
- Indigenous technology advancements through R&D, and IPR development for standards, technology, spectrum, and security
- Public-private partnerships for broadband growth and penetration, 5G trials and testing, network densification among others
Higher frequency 5G networks will demand a deeper densification of networks. The key enabler for seamless experience will be a robust fiber backhaul. Eighty per cent of India's current mobile network rides over radio as opposed to that of US and China at 20 per cent. Hence, it would be imperative for the government investment and policies to support fiber densification to reap maximum benefits of the technology.
The Government is very keen to jumpstart the 5G Commercial launch in India and enhance the national broadband footprint. Supported by the existing talent across the TMT industry, India has the opportunity to mature its ICT portfolio and unlock mega monetization opportunities. To achieve these macro objectives in a better way, the telecom sector does need a helping hand...right now. As such, the Government can take some definitive steps to create an environment that provides the necessary impetus for next evolution of growth in the sector and resolve some long outstanding issues.
The author is Partner, Deloitte India