The significance of 5G Networks in India
Ultra-fast, low-latency 5G Networks will drive a digital universe of limitless possibilities, making India a truly digital-first nation
The pandemic changed the world dramatically. Thanks to its digital infrastructure, India’s industry drove significant transformation across all sectors, particularly in retail, e-commerce, education and healthcare. Significant surges in network traffic notwithstanding, telecom networks functioned normally. Almost overnight, many industries switched to remote, touchless operations. This wouldn’t have been possible without reliable pan-India telecom networks.
Today, COVID-19 is accelerating digital transformation across Indian industries. Here, 5G Networks will remain pivotal in making India a digital economy, exerting enormous impact on wireless technologies, including enabling MEC (Mobile Edge Computing) and network slicing.
In future, 5G Networks will drive lower latency, making 5G more powerful. Latency refers to the delay or extra time taken for data to reach its destination across networks.
5G Networks Benefits
Given its transformational nature, rapid 5G adoption is crucial for India. For instance, OTT platforms such as Amazon Prime, Netflix and other video-streaming offerings will be available seamlessly and on-the-go on smartphones and allied devices without buffering. Entertainment, gaming, healthcare, hospitality and education, among others, will all benefit tremendously from 5G networks’ almost-instantaneous downloads. Virtual reality and similar immersive technologies can become ubiquitous across industries, driving more productive outcomes. India’s ‘Smart Cities’ mission will also receive a big boost since connected smart homes will turn into ground reality.
5G networks provide a platform for service innovation while supporting diverse uses for different industries. 5G supports three types of services with different Quality of Service requirements vis-à-vis bandwidth, latency and reliability. These are enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) for services requiring high peak data rates such as gaming and mixed reality, massive machine-type communication (mMTC) for IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) services and ultra-reliable low-latency communications (URLLC) for mission-critical services.
An extremely innovative feature is network slicing, which allows heterogeneous services to coexist in the same 5G network. The ability of 5G networks to simultaneously support diverse domain use cases in a “network-as-a-service’’ mode makes it a highly disruptive platform for rapid service innovation. As a result, applications can be developed on the same 5G network for manufacturing, telemedicine or immersive online education.
Radio spectrum is a scarce resource, globally, and in India, specifically. Therefore, there’s an urgent need to better use existing spectrums in the low-band and mid-band (Sub 6 GHz), simultaneously supporting high-frequency bands such as millimetre-wave (e.g., 26 GHz). 5G is a more spectrum-efficient technology unlike previous generations of wireless technology (viz., 4G/LTE).
Spectral efficiency of 5G makes better use of low and mid-band frequencies delivering much higher peak data rates needed by consumer, enterprise or industrial applications. Millimetre-wave has high capacity but suffers from propagation loss and has concomitant coverage challenges. Innovations in 5G Radio – Beamforming, massive MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output) – and use of large antenna arrays have helped overcome such challenges, enabling millimetre-wave to deliver high bandwidth services.
Moreover, 5G networks are more energy efficient. Studies show 5G can be up to 90% more efficient per traffic unit than 4G.
5G adoption challenges
Adequate availability of spectrum in low, mid and high-frequency bands and rollout of 5G networks to address coverage and capacity needs nationwide is essential for India to become a digital-first nation. However, other important factors need attention too. First, the availability of affordable smartphones and 5G devices. Second, a rich ecosystem of application developers, cloud providers and industry domain experts to build India-specific 5G use cases benefitting the entire nation and addressing the digital divide. Third, rapid fiberization and use of microwave and satellite technologies to modernize the transport network for backhaul services.
A 5G cell site transmits large volumes of data of several gigabytes while the current 4G backhaul networks are inadequate to carry 5G services. New policies must be implemented permitting Right of Way for rapid rollout of backhaul transport networks.
Lastly, although India is an IT powerhouse, upskilling of this workforce is necessary to build a robust pool of digital experts on Cloud, Edge Computing, Security, Data, Analytics and AI. The true power of 5G can only be realized when these digital technologies are leveraged in building 5G services. Finally, since 5G will denote vital infrastructure, the highest security norms should be followed, based on open standards rather than proprietary technology.
Authored by Jayanta Dey, Executive President – 5G, HFCL Limited