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5G will Arrive in India in 2020, but Stay a Niche, Premium Offering

Mobile consumers are in for a big treat. While 4G services gave them a hang of video calls and unlimited data at cheap tariffs, the new technology 5G will catapult the industry to the next level.

Telecom operators, as well as government, is aggressively working towards the launch of new technology 5G.

The first commercial launch in India is expected in 2020 but experts say 5G would only be a premium service and not cater to the mass market. With new technologies including artificial intelligence, virtual reality, machine to machine communications, internet of things, the landscape of telecom industry is set to witness another massive change within next few years.

5G will increase the speed by over 10 times compared to 4G. This will make an Indian telecom player — an integrated digital service provider with digital wallet offerings, deployment of 5G networks with voice shifting to LTE, app-based video calling and virtual reality-based applications, according to a senior executive of a telecom player.

Globally, though few trials and use cases have taken place for 5G, its commercial rollout is expected in 2020 only.

North America is expected to lead the 5G uptake, with all major US operators planning to roll out 5G between the end of 2018 and mid-2019. By end of 2023, close to 50% of all mobile subscriptions in North America are forecast to be for 5G, followed by North East Asia at 34%, and Western Europe at 21%, as per a report by Ericsson released on Tuesday. It has projected over 1 billion 5G subscriptions for enhanced mobile broadband by end of 2023, accounting for around 12% of all mobile subscriptions.

First generation 5G data-only devices are expected to roll out from the second half of this year, the first commercial smartphones supporting 5G in the mid-bands are expected early next year, while support for very high spectrum bands is expected in early to mid-2019.

The government has already set up a forum for 5G. A grant of Rs 224 crore was sanctioned for three years for setting up an indigenous 5G test bed in the country by Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institute of Science. It is also an important part of the draft of the new telecom policy.

“We were late in launching 3G and 4G services in India. But, we would not be left behind in launch of 5G technology. We will be at par with global industry,” telecom minister Manoj Sinha said last week.

Rajan Mathews, director general, COAI, says 5G will cater to a specific niche market and it will be critical for areas such as healthcare – remote surgery, education, other automated functions. “Through 5G network slicing, one operator can give high-speed bandwidth specifically such as one slice could target autonomous vehicles, another enhanced mobile broadband, another low-throughput IoT. Each network slice will operate as an independent, virtualised version of the network. It will allow operators to provide different services with different performance characteristics to address specific use cases. ”

As per Ericsson report, 5G is expected to be deployed first in dense urban areas with enhanced mobile broadband and fixed wireless access as the first commercial use cases. Other use cases will come from industries such as automotive, manufacturing, utilities, and healthcare.

Telecom players including Bharti Airtel, BSNL have taken small steps towards moving to the 5G technology. Earlier this year, Bharti Airtel and China’s telecom equipment player Huawei successfully conducted India’s first 5G network trial under a test setup at Airtel’s network experience centre in Manesar, Gurgaon. BSNL and Nokia have signed a MoU for 5G. Bharti Airtel will also be rolling out its pre-5G massive multiple-input-multiple-output (MIMO) technology in Mumbai this fiscal. The company has already tested this technology through the recent IPL T20 cricket matches at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium, while 5G was also the buzzword in the latest Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain earlier this year.

5G will enable a $27 billion revenue opportunity for Indian telecom operators by 2026, which will be over and above the revenue generated from traditional services expected to grow up to $63 billion by 2026. It has the potential to enable 43% incremental revenue opportunity for the Indian operators by 2026.

Though, the industry is quite upbeat on the new technology and its benefits. But with Indian telecom players reeling under financial stress since the entry of Reliance Jio in the sector, it remains to be seen how much investment will they be able to actually make, the main part of which will be buying out the spectrum in the auction whenever it happens. – DNA

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