Shyam Mardikar, CTO, Bharti Airtel
The Decade of Mobile Video that started with 3G networks in India in 2011 has moved the technology needle faster than ever. The speeds would reach around 1Gbps per customer by 2020, given the march of technology. This tech revolution has overwhelmingly swept the mobile data experience and has made India the second largest Internet population on the planet.
The key developments that have led these mega changes are:
Availability and Harmonization of Broadband Spectrum
India has moved from a spectrum-starved country to an adequate spectrum country in last 2 years.
Thanks to a structured drive by Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to harmonize the spectrum and a subsequent spectrum auction, the top operators can easily boast of 30+ MHz of equivalent paired spectrum today in most circles of operations. Policies like spectrum trading and sharing have also helped operators to consolidate their spectrum positions.
Increase in Number of Smartphones
India has been one of the largest smartphone markets in the past few quarters. This has radically upped the device ecosystem and customer’s capability to consume more and more data. This year saw the entry of so-called cat 12 devices that can support 500+ Mbps already and have features like multiple receive channels and carrier aggregation, thus enhancing the customer experience significantly.
Roll out of 4G Networks
The massive rollouts of 4G networks across the country have not only maximized the use of spectrum but has also made sure the geographical continuity of the mobile broadband network for a sustained experience and consumption. This has also created a humongous capacity to offer high-speed data to hundreds of million customers.
Technology Platforms to Manage and Drive the Traffic on the Right Technology
A demographic mix like India has its own challenges on managing large scale traffic. We are not only one of the most talkative nations in the world, but are also fast moving to be one of the most mobile data consuming countries from a per capita consumption perspective. The mega consumption coupled with very high density of users in a given area; makes it imperative for the network to have a razor sharp focus on granular performance. Tech platforms around real time analytics across technology, device,and spatial vectors can ensure that optimization and traffic management is done as customers move across the network corridor. This helps to drive the spectral efficiency of the network to a new high.
With continued growth of smartphone penetration for a data hungry society, technology would pave the path for a greater scalability and better experience.
5G ready technologies like massive MiMo that enhance the capacity per site using capabilities like 3D beam-forming and interference management are already under commercial deployments. With the traffic scale and density trends for India, such technologies will go a long way towards creating a hyper-scale mobile network.
Virtualization of network ecosystem will also drive efficiencies both on scale and performance. Ability to use the off the shelf hardware with open software and drive the compute capability to as close to the edge of the network as possible will create the platform readiness for different kind of service sets – from those involving ultra-low latency to those which need to move massive amounts of data from points A to B.
Cellular Internet of Things (IoT) would expand application of broadband networks and play a role in realizing government’s vision of digital India technologies such as NB-IoT and LTE-M would be deployed on the existing 4G networks. These would help in driving digitization of vertical industries, smart cities, intelligent energy, transport, and smart cities.
The outcome will be a flatter, hyper scale network consisting of heavy duty radios, a virtualized, distributed core and tools with real time awareness of performance - that will not only sit very close to the customer, but will also understand his consumption; serving with best possible resources, optimally.
Having said that, one of the biggest challenges the country would see in this transformation journey will be our ability to design and create a similar hyper scale backhaul capability. For the network to be sliced and served as close to the customer; and for a network which aggregates hundreds of Mbps per site; the readiness of optical fiber and Gigabit microwave backhaul will be a must do before India claims to be the 5G network we dream of. Like Hobbs’ profound quote to Calvin – the problem with the future is that it keeps turning into present; telecom is morphing into a newer animal faster than we can envisage.