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5G Perspective

5G technology and advancement opportunities in this connected world

In the last few months, we have seen India getting ready for 5G roll-out – be it telecom operators, technology partners, etc. 5G’s open innovation platform will enable India to take the leap toward a smarter, safer, and sustainable future.

5G will not just open up a whole new world of possibilities for governments, large and small enterprises, and our citizens, it will also change the way we operate. With a range of unique network features that enable next-generation content, communications, and collaboration experiences across the consumer, enterprise, and IoT markets, we will need to adopt new ways of doing business in the 5G era.

Overview of generations of mobile communications
Over the last 40 years, the world has witnessed four generations of mobile communication and now the fifth-generation (5G) rollout has started. 5G is perhaps the most ambitious generation to date, as it not only aims to deliver new levels of performance and efficiency to enhance today’s mobile broadband services, but also expand mobile networks to be a unifying connectivity fabric for a wide range of use cases. 5G is projected to be a disruptive force central to the development of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Further, the next 3GPP third-generation partnership project – the Standard Development Organization Release 18 expected in 2023 is being awaited as the first release of 5G Advanced standards. which include diverse work items that will significantly boost 5G performance and address a wide variety of new use cases, including artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies to provide data-driven, intelligent network solutions for future wireless networks.

Use cases of 5G in India
In the context of 5G, one is primarily referring to three distinctive classes of use cases – enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), massive machine-type communication (mMTC), and ultra-reliable and low-latency communication (URLLC).

The transition to 5G will transform our lives, our economy, our jobs, and our industries, and there are more and newer evidences of this emerging each day. In the recent 5G trials, Vi has successfully demonstrated use cases spanning across Consumer and Enterprise Segments. These include – remote medicine for rural healthcare solution, connected schools, connected ambulance for patient monitoring during transit to hospital, cloud gaming, augmented reality/virtual reality applications, digital twin, which provides a virtual model designed to accurately reflect a physical object being studied, video surveillance on 5G or smart city monitoring, driver monitoring system (to alert the driver when drowsy/sleepy or not paying attention to road), in-car entertainment on full HD for passengers on 5G, aerial survey and delivery of medicine or medical equipment during disasters through drones, sports training solutions, etc. Vi also successfully demonstrated 5G voice-over-new-radio (VoNR) with technology partner, Nokia, during the ongoing 5G trials in Gandhinagar, Gujarat. Once deployed, the VoNR solution will enable Vi to offer its subscribers high-definition voice experience over 5G, as well as several advanced voice applications and use cases in the future.

In addition, Vi recorded top 5G speed in its ongoing 5G trials. It achieved peak speed in excess of 3.7 Gbps on the mmWave spectrum band in Pune and also recorded peak download speeds of up to 1.5 Gbps in 3.5 Ghz band 5G trial network in Gandhinagar and Pune.

Other use cases, which we see evolving are V2X (vehicle to everything), FWA (fixed wireless access), side-link communications (D2D), NR-NTN (non-terrestrial networks), smart wearables, smart sensors, automated end-to-end manufacturing processes enabled by 5G connectivity, mission-critical services, etc.

Readiness for 5G
At Vi, we have already proceeded with procurement of 5G-ready equipment and cloud enablement. However, some of the critical factors for the early rollout of 5G are as under:

  • Infrastructure readiness. Site infrastructure will require upgradation to support the additional bands of radios in 3.5 GHz and mmWave bands. Majority of these are Massive MIMO, requiring enhanced electrical power and space on towers for additional antenna.
  • Enhanced connectivity solutions. Backhauling the massive 5G traffic calls for enhancement of transport network to manage the significantly higher traffic for both access and backbone network. Higher-capacity backhaul solutions like fiber, E-band radios, etc., will help achieve this. We will also see further enhancement of low-latency network designs like edge computing. Front-haul bandwidths can be a major challenge for RAN virtualization (cloud RAN), and this is a space that telcos are working on.
  • NSA and SA deployments. The device eco-system needs to support all modes of 5G operations – non-stand-alone mode as well as stand-alone mode, to deliver best-in-class services to customers.
  • Leverage NR-CA capabilities. Handset eco-system shall need to gear up to be feature rich and support functionalities like CA (carrier aggregation in 5G) and DSS (dynamic spectrum sharing between 4G and 5G) between various bands available in India. I also expect a perceptible growth in the number of device models supporting VoNR (voice-over-new-radio) in coming months.
  • Coverage and capacity planning. The available spectrum has lower coverage footprint – thus careful planning of low-band, mid-band, and mmWave spectrum is being carried out to ensure efficient coverage, including traffic hotspots.

Network deployment options
Vi has been investing into the future technologies’ ready products. On 4G itself, we had deployed the largest number of massive MIMO units. The same technology will be employed in mid-band 5G as well.

To quickly rollout 5G services, MNOs (mobile network operators) might start with NSA (non-standalone) mode, which uses dual connectivity toward both LTE and NR, but the true potential of 5G can be achieved with SA (standalone mode), wherein we will be able to offer use cases like eMBB, URLLC, and mMTC.

The major advantage of 5GC (5G core) is that it can offer network-slicing feature, opening up new revenue streams and new business opportunities. Network slicing, which Vi recently demonstrated, further enables setting up captive wireless private networks (CWPN) for our enterprise customers with better reliability and redundancy toward future-ready and secure networks.

In sync with these advancements, Vi has modernized core network architecture to be cloud-native, and has also built multiple cloud locations that not only act as central data centers but also cater to regional data centers.

Most pivotal Impact on 5G services
The most critical factors that will impact 5G services, apart from spectrum, are enhanced edge computing, network virtualization and slicing, automation and use of AI/ML, adoption of cloud-native methodologies, commercial deployment of open RAN and RIC (RAN intelligent controllers), etc.

Further 5G and cloud adoption will drive data center market boom as well. On the RAN side, the CU-DU (centralized unit-distributed unit) split of the baseband will require smaller mid-haul bandwidths that can be dovetailed with MEC for different use cases.

5G opportunities
5G is still in its infancy and we are still some distance away from leveraging its full potential. 5G can be considered as a framework for boosting the digital economy of India. Affordable spectrum pricing is a critical factor to enable ubiquitous roll out of this cutting-edge technology. MNOs are increasingly banking on 5G-enabled disruptive applications, using a combination of high data throughput and low latency, which is being developed for new revenue opportunities.

While the current focus has been on enhancing data speeds, the next focus is on 5G’s ultra-reliable low-latency, network-slicing, and edge-computing technologies for use cases discussed earlier. Some immediate focus points are – the use of augmented reality (AR) and Metaverse-related initiatives (immersive experience and associated technologies), which are still in their early days and cloud gaming, wherein 5G will be the prime differentiator.

With the emergence of 5G core, MEC (multi-access edge computing) applications, and network slicing, MNOs have an opportunity to monetize the network in new ways and form deeper engagements with both individual customers as well as enterprises. This will help MNOs achieve the next phase of their evolution, taking them beyond connectivity providers to becoming technology providers to the nation.

To summarize, 5G as a reality is imminent and it is going to play a major role in transforming lives – not only through enhanced connectivity but also through a plethora of use cases that are being developed.

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