India is rejoicing on the prospect of 5G services being launched in August/September, as the auctions were concluded recently. And why not? 5G bears great promise not just in terms of faster mobile broadband for individual consumers, but also owing to its manifold specialist applications, benefits, and potential usage across several sectors.
But we do need to introspect, if we are truly prepared to leverage this technology to its fullest potential to serve the huge populace of Bharat, and not just of the developed and affluent India, to ensure that it aids in achieving the national missions of Broadband for All and Digital India.
For starters, our 4G deployments have not really covered all of Bharat till now. Rural and remote areas still struggle for quality digital/broadband connectivity. Moreover, our 4G mobile speeds today are less than half of the world average. So, we have not been able to utilize 4G to its fullest capacity. Can we afford to do the same with 5G?
Inevitably, like with every new technology, introduction of 5G will initially significantly widen the digital divide. Even the apex global telecom authority, the ITU, cautioned in 2018 itself that 5G – in its initial phase – will only add to the digital divide, increasing the disparities between the haves and have-nots as the normal phenomenon of technology evolution. All nations have to be aware of this, and take conscious actions to minimize this undesirable effect.
Mobile tariffs have had to be increased by 30 to 40 percent in the last two years. While the auctions for 5G were conducted successfully, the biddings exceeded ₹1.5 lakh crore. It is obvious that 5G would take mobile tariffs to much higher levels to cover the investment cost. Given that India is a price-sensitive market, the rise in tariffs is expected to further accentuate the digital divide in the country.
But in that case, the vast rural/non-urban areas of the country would suffer, as 5G is required much more there for improving efficiencies in verticals like agriculture, manufacturing, healthcare, and other segments, for yielding better outputs in a more cost-efficient manner.
Concurrently, rural and inter-land employment also needs to increase. Heavy rural-to-urban migration is a harsh reality, since our low-yielding agriculture does not provide sustainable income. This can be overcome through the use of advanced agri-tech methods, which could reap better yields for the farming community.
These requirements can be effectively met through the use of private 5G networks permitted by the government this year, as they can greatly enhance efficiencies and outputs by streamlining and augmenting processes and capacities, through technological superiority. They would also lead to generation of employment opportunities locally, translating into better incomes and improved quality of living.
It is also heartening to note that the 700MHz spectrum was picked up in the auctions, as this band has great carrying power to serve the rural regions efficiently.
In our zeal to progress technologically, the non-urban areas and populace of the country should not be left behind and be deprived of the opportunity to gain through the benefits of 5G, as it would block the rightful development of all sectors, the progress of the rural economy, and stifle the national goal of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas!