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5G in India – How close are we?

5G is soon going to be a reality in India and the recently concluded spectrum auctions are a testimony to it. All the major CSPs have been preparing themselves for 5G since over a year or more, starting with field trials and are now busy chalking out the rollout strategy with their technology partners. We can expect the launch to happen as early as October 2022.

This journey, for sure, is going to be an exciting one. India is already ranked among one of the largest mobile data consumers in the world with average data per user per month at over 17Gb. High data rates (up to 10 Gbps) with 5G will allow services like AR/VR, Ultra HD streaming, immersive gaming etc. With FWA (Fixed Wireless Access), CSPs can offer fiber like speed to areas where fiber laying is not feasible and to enterprises as an alternative to fixed broadband. Further 5G will enable a wide range of mission critical services requiring high reliability and low latency (such as autonomous vehicles, remote medical care and surgeries, robotics, transportation, electric grids etc.) along with massive IoT for connecting vast number of devices and end points that serve small amount of data (with agriculture, smart homes, fleet management, smart watches etc. as the major use cases).

As per market projections, India will have close to 370 million 5G subscribers by 2026 mobile while the 5G services are predicted to generate US$9.0 bn, equivalent to 37.7% of total mobile service revenue (Source: Nokia MBit report 2022). As per the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, 5G is expected to create a cumulative economic impact of $1 trillion in India by 2035.

Deployment considerations – spectrum vs strategy
While 5G will help the CSPs reinvent themselves as digital service providers (DSPs) and unleash a wide array of new services, use cases and business models, it would also require some interesting considerations by the CSPs in terms of their business strategy vs the spectrum available with them for varying geographies and landscape to provide the right mix of coverage and capacity to serve their consumers and enterprise customers.

5G deployment will see radios being deployed in various form factors across varying locations – urban, dense urban, rural, hotspots. There cannot be a one-size-fits-all kind of a solution for varying landscape. Rather, it would take a mix-and-match kind of solution that would give CSPs the liberty to pick the right mix of radios for rolling out their 5G networks. While macro radios are the best fit for providing coverage and capacity in open and outdoor locations, for indoor coverage and urban areas with tall-buildings or locations (such as city-centers and transportation hubs) with large concentration of users, small cells would be the apt solution for coverage in-fill and hot-spot capacity boosts.

Key bands for leveraging 5G
Globally, C band (3.5 GHz) is the most the most widely used band (Source GSA report July 2022) as it provides a near perfect balance of capacity and coverage for 5G connectivity. Nokia has specifically developed 5G radio variants that can support the 3.5 GHz allocation in India so that our CSPs can leverage the 3.5 GHz spectrum from day one. These radios are based on Nokia’s Reefshark SoC (System-on-Chip) to support wider spectrum bandwidth for providing greater flexibility to the CSPs in their spectrum usage, along with space and energy efficiency, and scalability for rapidly changing traffic requirements.

Low band (such as 700 MHz) will also play a major role in providing an ubiquitous 5G connectivity for wide outdoor areas and indoor environment with cost efficiency owing to its wider reach.

E band microwave for 5G backhaul
Currently, only around 30% -33% of telecom towers in India are connected with fiber. The traffic per site is expected to grow 3 to 4 times or more once 5G is introduced and the backhaul would have to scaled up accordingly. However, the current pace of fiberization will not be enough to keep up with the backhaul traffic once 5G takes off.

To this point, E band microwave solution comes across as viable option for the CSPs to evolve their backhaul networks for the 5G era – it is scalable in bandwidth, easy to deploy and offers fiber-like performance. We had achieved 9.85 Gbps backhaul speed with E band in our 5G trial with a leading CSP in India using our Wavence Microwave platform.

Faster roll out with automation and digitalization
As spectrum cost EMIs kick in, the faster a CSP can roll out its 5G network, the stronger will be the return on its 5G investment. The traditional ways of designing and deploying the network are insufficient for fast paced 5G deployment. Nokia addresses this challenge with a new and digital approach. Nokia’s digital design platform creates a Digital twin of the network that can visualize ‘what if’ scenarios to design and optimize network performance end to end from RAN to Core before the actual physical implementation. For example – a North American customer benefited from Nokia’s design that provided for a 30% lower TCO than its own design baseline.

And beyond just the design aspect, Nokia is the first major vendor to offer 100 percent digital deployment capabilities to the CSPs for a faster, more sustainable, and higher quality 5G network deployment process.

Looking beyond 5G
As 5G network deployments continue in various parts of the world, including countries like India, the focus of wireless research is steadily shifting toward 6G. Keeping up with the tradition of a new generation of cellular tech once every ten years or so, it is expected that 6G tech will be standardized with deployments starting around 2030.

6G will help us redefine how we live, work and take care of our planet. 5G-Advanced, the next standard enhancements for 5G, will act as the bridge between 5G and 6G. 6G will build upon the capabilities of 5G and 5G-Advanced to transform our lives and society for a sustainable future. Every single improvement in network connectivity that 5G will bring to the end-user will get further perfected with 6G.

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