The newly appointed telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has recently said that 5G trials are going to begin in the next 100 days. The formal announcement from the minister has put an end to the months of speculations. One of the largest telecom equipment providers in India, Ericsson is gearing up for the launch of 5G services. It has tied up with Vodafone Idea, Bharti Airtel and BSNL for 5G rollout and network planning. Here are the edited excerpts of the interaction between Nitin Bansal, Head of Ericsson India and Head of Network Solutions Ericsson South East Asia, Oceania & India and Business Today.
Business Today: How is Ericsson supporting evolution from 4G to 5G? What are the Indian operators doing right now for this transition?
Nitin Bansal: In India, there's a lot of investment happening in 4G and it's going to continue in the coming years as the demand for data will only pick up further. This means that the operators will continue to work on their 4G networks and we are helping them to provide the most efficient and seamless 4G experience to their customers. While the investments in 4G continue, we are also helping them prepare for the evolution to 5G.
For instance, we recently made an announcement that Ericsson will be deploying 5G-ready LTE equipment for Vodafone Idea. This deployment will enhance Vodafone Idea's (VIL) networks with advanced LTE capabilities now while enabling the rapid transition of sites to 5G through remote software installation in the future.
Ericsson's network technology enables evolution to full 5G deployment through natural, step-wise implementation - one that balances investment, new revenue streams and competitiveness. Our end-to-end 5G platform - across radio, core and transport networks - enables operators to evolve to new 5G capabilities in a way that matches their own business strategy, while enhancing current 4G business.
BT: What kind of investment will be required for this switch?
Bansal: The investments depend on where you start and what sort of deployments one is looking at - whether nationwide coverage from day one or addressing high footfall areas. It will also be a factor of what kind of use cases operators are readying the network for.
But we have to understand what is happening in the Indian telecom industry right now and accordingly prepare for the future. Ericsson's Mobility Report predicts that the mobile data traffic per smartphone per month is expected to grow at CAGR of 14 per cent from 6.8 GB (gigabyte) in 2018 to 15 GB in 2024. The overall mobile data traffic will grow four-fold in this time frame. To address this growth, our telecom networks need to evolve simultaneously and that needs to happen while keeping the costs down. Our studies indicate that 5G will bring down the cost per GB by about 10 times as compared to 4G, thus enabling massive efficiencies for operators.
BT: Share details of your collaborations and partnership on 5G globally and in India?
Bansal: We are the first with commercial live networks in the US, and have already deployed operational 5G networks based on commercial equipment in Europe, Middle East, Australia and Asia. We have publicly announced 5G deals with 18 operators globally. From an India market perspective, we brought the first live demonstration of 5G to India in late 2017. In 2018, we signed MoU's with Bharti Airtel and BSNL to work together to create a roadmap for 5G and Internet of Things (IoT) deployments in India.
Also, at the India Mobile Congress 2018, we showcased 5G use cases with Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio. With Airtel, we demonstrated Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) drone operations leveraging high bandwidth and ultra-low latency of 5G networks to showcase mission-critical applications such as disaster response and monitoring, emergency delivery services and remote surveillance. In a joint collaboration with IIT Delhi and Reliance Jio, we have demonstrated the remote operation and control of a car that was connected over a live 5G network on 3.5 GHz band.
BT: How will the switch to 5G benefit operators? What will be the business opportunity for operators?
Bansal: The first commercial-scale beneficiaries of 5G will be mobile broadband consumers with massive and highly cost-efficient capacity expansions facilitating new applications in augmented reality and virtual reality in areas such as gaming and sports broadcasts.
5G will play a major role in industry digitalisation. Our report on 5G business potential shows that there is a $619 billion revenue opportunity for telecom operators globally by 2026. 5G mobile services are expected to create over $27 billion business opportunity for India by 2026, out of this $13 billion is the addressable revenue opportunity for mobile operators in the country. This will be on top of revenues from traditional services.
Early adopters of 5G technology will gain significant advantages when it comes to addressing the growing appetite for data services as well as leveraging the industry digitalisation opportunity. But, 5G will not just be the next big thing in telecom technology; it will be seen as critical national infrastructure.
BT: When should India expect first 5G deployments?
Bansal: We are aligned with the government's vision of bringing 5G to India by 2020 and from a technology point of view, we are ready. The Ericsson Radio System hardware has been 5G-ready since 2015 and we have already shipped more than 3 million 5G-ready radios to our customers worldwide, including in India. The whole ecosystem needs to come together for 5G to be a reality. To this effect, we are working with telecom operators, partners from other industries as well as academia to develop India-specific use cases.