Even as the telecom operators await the launch of 5G trials, the move towards 5G is getting a lot of talks, especially in the public forums. As per a report released by consultancy firm EY, India is expected to have 197 million 5G mobile connections in the next five years, up from just 2 million in 2021. Though the increase in 5G connections (between 2021 and 2025) is expected to be lower than the rise of 4G connections between 2015 and 2019. For instance, 4G mobile connections grew at a CAGR (compounded annual growth rate) of 300 per cent in four years as compared to expected CAGR growth of 213 per cent for 5G.
That could be largely due to the diversified use cases of 5G as compared to 4G. Unlike 4G which is primarily used for mobile connectivity, 5G will be used for eMBB (enhanced mobile broadband) in addition to applications in areas which require low-latency.
Globally, the 5G installations are on the rise, especially in regions like the US, Europe and South Korea. For instance, as per Ookla 5G map, 5G is commercially available at 15,211 locations across the globe. This is a sharp rise from 743 locations as on July 2019. "When it comes to 5G, spectrum is critical but the infrastructure is also essential; that's because 5G requires more densified networks. In the US, for instance, we will need to install hundreds of thousands of small cells," said Ajit Pai, chairman of Federal Communications Commission (FCC), at a webinar for the report release.
The need to have a robust telecom infrastructure to enable 5G is a must. This includes fiberisation of towers, small cells installations, E&V bands, among others. The telecom infrastructure investments have to be ramped up before the 5G gets commercially launched in the country. "Increased data consumption and evolution of technology provide new growth opportunities to telecom infrastructure providers in terms of small cell densification and fiberisation of telecom assets. Tower fiberisation is expected to witness steady growth in the future. Especially with India's 5G launch anticipated in 2023, fiberisation rates are expected to surge from 2021 onwards," says the EY report.
In India, just about 30 per cent of the towers are fiberised at the moment. This has to go up to at least 60 per cent to realise the potential of 45/5G. "Robust telecom infrastructure is key to realising the Digital India mission, and for reaping the benefits of futuristic technologies such as 5G, IoT, machine-to-machine, Industry 2.0, mobile edge computing, AI, AR, and VR...As demand for digital infrastructure is increasing at a rapid pace, massive amounts of investments is required in FTTH [fiber-to-the-home], data centres, and in-building solutions," said R.S. Sharma, chairman of TRAI (Telecom Regulator Authority of India), at the webinar.
That's not all. The DoT (department of telecommunications) is already working on a policy to provide E & V bands to telecom operators so that they can use these bands to wirelessly transmit high amounts of data between two towers without the need to have fiber connection.
"Fiber cannot be laid in different terrains... Laying of fiber across the country is difficult. The policy on E&V bands is under study. We will be coming out shortly with that so that bandwidth backhaul can be provided easily using that," said K. Ramchand, advisor (technology) at DoT, said in the webinar.