At the end of June 2019, there were 16 live 5G networks across 10 countries that included South Korea, the US, the UK, Italy, Switzerland, Australia, Bahrain, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Uruguay. Many others will be joining the group before the end of 2019. Quite like in the case of 3G and 4G deployment, India remains a laggard, with the process of spectrum sale yet to begin. As things stand, 5G is still at least a couple of years away from deployment in the country.
Yet, Nunzio Mirtillo, Senior Vice President and Head of Market Area South East Asia, Oceania and India, Ericsson is quite positive. The biggest positive according to Mirtillo is how India within a couple of years moved up from rank 140 to number one globally in terms of mobile data consumption. That happened due to tremendous investment in a very condensed and short period. Will that happen in 5G?
It looks difficult as far as things stand now. Mirtillo points out to how Ericsson has worked to ensure that it is possible for operators to leverage on the investment on spectrum since the start. "We have a feature called Ericsson Spectrum Sharing where from day one you can use an existing 4G spectrum bandwidth like 1800MHz or 900MHz band where you already have an Ericsson radio based on ERS, that radio is 5G radio. On it, you can load software that makes it possible to have 5G terminals and 4G terminals for making calls and connecting data. And by doing that, in a dynamic way, the bandwidth of the spectrum is used according to the needs."
What Mirtillo states is that if there are more 5G users then you will give spectrum to 5G. If there are more 4G users then you give it to 4G and simultaneously you can assign in a dynamic way in between the two. By doing that, 5G subscribers will obviously use the 5G specific spectrum. What this technology provides is that using the existing 4G band, the operator gets coverage. Add to that the 5G band, which provides the necessary speed and capacity. "So, it's three things - when we develop for 4G, we make sure that whatever we install is 5G-ready and then on 5G, we think about how operators can provide the best possible experience to the subscribers from day one," says Mirtillo.Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Industries may bid for Anil's RCom in bankruptcy
As far as India is concerned, Mirtillo is quite sure that the biggest use case initially will be enhanced mobile broadband or eMBB followed by fixed wireless access. What eMBB does is to provide faster data services and a better user experience. It goes just faster downloads to provide a seamless user experience and will in future enable 360-degree video-streaming, immersive VR and AR applications. With fixed wireless access, the user gets home broadband on wireless technology as opposed to fixed line broadband now.
Despite delays, there is a huge opportunity in India for 5G. Operators can provide services to enterprise that today they cannot. So it's an opportunity to grow their business. But for that to happen, operators need to buy spectrum. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has put the base price for 5G spectrum at Rs 492 crore per MHz. Mirtillo states that it is on the high side when it comes to the cost of the spectrum. If you compare the rest of the world, it is on the higher side kind of ranking.
"As a country, India should not lose the opportunity. But, to do that in a system, which is the government, operators and us, we have to do a good job. In my view everything starts to make sense if we make the 5G spectrum affordable," says Mirtillo. "So it has to be given at a fair price. That's what I believe." That, of course, is something that TRAI and Department of Telecommunications (DoT) have to decode now.