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CTO Conclave IMC, October 1-4, 2022- Some selected excerpts

CTO Conclave IMC 2022

Jagbir Singh
Group CTO,
Vodafone Idea Ltd.

On the question that what further enhancements are required in terms of network upgrades, we need to ensure that cloudification is simpler. The cloud today is best understood by companies as AWS, Google, and Microsoft. The providers have their own private clouds, we need to have the expertise, and be in position to deploy cost effectively. To make 5G rollout faster and make it useful, this is one of the main challenges I see.

The second major challenge is from the device chipset to the infrastructure chipsets. The chipsets are not available easily. While being more powerful, they need to be green in terms of lower power consumption.

The third challenge is that the ecosystem needs to work together, so 5G can be relevant in everybody’s life.

The cost for deploying infrastructure from vendors as Nokia, Ericsson, and Samsung in India is perhaps about 10–20 percent lower, when compared to Japan or Korea. But then in comparison, ARPU in India is USD 2 as compared to USD 50 in USA, USD 45 in Korea, USD 60 in Japan and USD 40-plus in Europe. While today the demand in India is for 14 GB–15 GB per user, per month, it is expected to go up to 40–50 GB per month for 5G services. The entire ecosystem will need to work together to ensure that we are able to monetize 5G. Otherwise, any improvement in the ARPUs cannot be expected.

The response to the question on the two imperatives as an operator, one is, for all the stakeholders to work together and make the 5G platform successful. It is an enabler that provides an opportunity to small companies, startups to get visibility and earn money, operators to improve their margins, and to customers an enhanced experience.

The second imperative is to promote the Make in India initiative as much as possible. Our strength lies in software development, creating on the platform by software, applying AI and ML to develop the software, thereby making it more efficient in terms of using this platform and offering the service to the customers.’

Shyam Mardikar
President & Group CTO Mobility,
Reliance Jio

As we move from 4G to 5G, there is a paradigm shift that is observed. 4G was connected, but 5G is not only hyper connected, it is beyond connected.

The two important contributors, in addition to connectivity, in the overall digital value chain, the holy trinity of communication, as I like to refer to them, are compute and storage. Having been independent-island based models, which were riding on connectivity, they are now embedded together, right up to the edge, densified as close to the customer as possible. And emerging as hyper connect, hyper compute and hyper storage.

On the question of readiness of telcos at this point of time, one of the good things, which has happened in the last decade in India, is the all pervasiveness of 4G. From a physical infrastructure perspective, and from the densification of tower infrastructure perspective, the connectivity of tower is a high-broadband, high-speed, IP MPLS riding on fiber. For Jio, the urban towers are more than 85 percent fiberized.

On the question of challenges, the speed of execution is definitely a large one. India is a huge country, with about 1.4 billion people. And connectivity needs to be provided over 320 million square kilometers of area, including deep, dense urban areas and rural demography.

Till we were offering 4G services, spectrum continued to be a scarce commodity with the Indian telcos’ spectrum holdings being one-fourth of their global counterparts be they, in the Far East or Europe. For the first time, after the recently held 5G auctions, although still not adequate, because the density per square kilometer is still mind blowing from an order of magnitude, very different than not only London or New York but even Shanghai, Beijing, or Jakarta, we will be able to offer 5G services. From a spectrum-starved industry, we finally have a near-adequate spectrum.

The telcos are getting backhaul, and edge compute ready, one of the largest vehicles that will drive the 5G bandwagon. With the right set of infrastructure, and the culmination of hyper compute, hyper storage, and hyper connectivity, we are well poised to unleash an entire hyper-digital era for the next decade.

For the next 10 years, the economics of communication, of demand, is getting segmented into three orthogonal vectors, and each one of them needs to be dealt with separately.

The first vector is what exists today, termed as enhanced mobile broadband, but effectively same as consumer mobile consumption, with India, only at 4G, currently contributing to 16 percent of global cellular data. With the unleashing of the 5G spectrum, and along with it, the latent demand of the netizens, the consumption of data is expected to catapult into 2x to 3x per capita consumption.

The second vector is around machines. And that is getting to a crazy scale now. Anything that can be connected will get connected in this decade – anything and everything – ranging from increasing cattle productivity using IoT; machine-to-machine communication; onboard devices for tracking, for optimization, for performance management, the entire manufacturing sector; to the education sector, and this is from a technology and telecom perspective. It is an easy task from the functional perspective, as what needs to be delivered is clearly defined. Going forward, byte-sized connectivity, with byte-sized devices will be needed, millions and tens of millions and hundreds of millions, if not billions. And that will hit us in the ecosystem.

Vector number three, the most complicated and the most promising vector, is Industry 4.0. Deep coupled collaboration between industry verticals and telecom will be the fundamental platform on which this will play over for the next few years. Domain experts from manufacturing, agriculture, commerce, education, healthcare, etc., will need to re-imagine their respective worlds with the entire digital platform. They will have compute, connectivity, and storage on a click, a cloud underlay to play upon, distances will finish the readiness of edge; data centers will make them super independent, super proficient from a time and motion study, from a productivity-per-capita perspective, and from a productivity-per-note perspective. Industry 4.0 will be a big force multiplier. It is not just a, glamorous, digital version of what they were doing, it places them into a totally different league.

But there will be heavy lifting required – with assets, telecom industry, and with all the adjacent industries. People will come together to collaborate and understand the design. Because it will be a bespoke solution, unlike vector one and vector two, where you can actually define a solution in a cookie-cutter model and replicate it. Here, there will be multiple bespoke scenarios, which will play out.

And then once you mix the three vectors, there will be a manifold increase in the depth of penetration in the consumer business, be it mobile, handheld, or home. The depth of penetration, in connecting things devices, cars, washing machines, and cattle will also increase. And the way business operates on the industry side, the way a manufacturing cycle runs, will change. Right now, it looks a bit like science fiction. But it will be very interesting to see the same manufacturing assembly line of one particular industry, if you fast forward into, let us say 2028 or 2030. How it changes, once digitization happens, with all the effort and the inputs, which these domain experts need to play in, and make us understand on how to convert them. And this is what makes the 5G-promise much more ubiquitous, much more promising!

With special reference to India, if you look back, over the last 10 years, a lot has happened that was considered extremely difficult, both from the scalability perspective, complexity of technology, uptake of device perspective, and the entire disaggregation concept of moving the software away from hardware, moving the control away, etc. Today, it is a bit tall ask, but then, it always looks impossible, till it is done.

Now that the underlying recipe is in place, we are on the verge of getting there. We have infrastructure, spectrum, towers, fiber, and above all, the brilliant Indian mindset to deliver. There are some good tailwinds, like a fast growing device ecosystem, an exponentially increasing capability to make programmable network, a recovering chipset industry, to list a few. This is all converging over the coming quarters, and we are poised to convert the next two to five quarters as a foundation for the next techade and make an unbelievable thing real, which we can all look back and be proud of.’

Randeep Sekhon
Bharti Airtel

5G is a thought provoker into starting a revolution.

For the consumer, it brings use cases as online gaming, entertainment, and immersive media. And they will impact the industry, enhancing productivity and increasing efficiency exponentially.

5G cannot be seen just by itself. It has four pillars including cloud, IoT, and analytics that encompass Machine Learning and AI. Already, we use the data analytics to fix mobile cellular networks, now it can be applied for face recognition, motion recognition, safety, and security too.

The question of 5G monetization is as the elephant in the room. Monetizing 5G may not be as big a challenge as made out to be. India is a large consumption economy. The average Indian consumes 20 GB of data every month. And with 600 to 700 million connected 4G devices, there are still 300 million non-4G devices, i.e., still another 300 million potential consumers that are not using data.

With the launch of 5G services, with the increasing popularity of online cloud gaming, and immersive media among others, the demand for data from existing users is expected to double.

5G has the potential to bring data cost even lower than the current 4G costs for data. If you see cost per GB, 5G is significantly, by multiple factors, cheaper than 4G, and hence demand will be there. The fact that every GB is going to be computed at a point very close to the point of consumption with 5G technology, the amount of GB consumed will go up exponentially but the cost per GB will be significantly lower. 5G also allows the radios to be much lighter, and more power efficient. Hence, not only is the CapEx, but also the OpEx cost significantly lower.

And with spectrum being 100 MHz for each telco, the carrier builds huge capacity, and hence the need of building more towers is reduced. So from the view of capacity serving, 5G is significantly more efficient than the previous technologies.

On the enterprise side, monetization is not so straightforward. The equation will no longer be, carrier provides connectivity, and the enterprise makes the payment. For monetization to happen, 5G will have to create value, solve business problems, and the ecosystem will have a larger role to play.

The ecosystem includes OSI players, IoT players, analytics players, public and private cloud, and edge players. And the carrier’s revenue will come from the value created.

In response to one thing that concerns me the most, is the speed of digital transformation, the pace of automation. To manage such complex networks with such high densities, automation will have to keep pace with the technology being deployed.’

Three sessions were held

In session one, esteemed panelists were Magnus Ewerbring, CTO APAC, Ericsson; Azhar Sayeed, Chief Technologist-Cloud & Virtualization, Red Hat; Bejoy Pankajakshan, EVP-Chief Technology & Strategy Officer, Mavenir; Randeep Sekhon, CTO, Bharti Airtel; Akhilesh Tuteja, Global Head–Cyber Security Consulting & India Head–Digital Consulting, KPMG India; Bryan Tan, Director–Connectivity Ecosystems, Facebook; Gautam Billa, Vice President–International Sales Engineering, Ciena; and Run Almog, Head of Product Strategy, DriveNets.

In session two, esteemed panelists were Atul Gupta, Partner and Head–Digital Trust and Cyber, KPMG India; Hardeep Saini, Senior Director Engineering, Qualcomm; Shyam Mardikar, President & Group CTO Mobility, Reliance Jio; Gilles Garcia, Senior Director Business lead Data Center & Communications group, AMD; and Srinivas Gudladana, Head of RAN Engineering, Rakuten Symphony.

In session three, esteemed panelists were Werner G. Schaefer, Visionary Executive- Business Development, Sales, General Management & Leading Global Strategic and Sales Initiatives, Intel Corporation; Tarun Chhabra, VP & Mobile Networks India Head, Nokia India; Jagbir Singh, Group CTO, Vi; Shobhit Agarwal, Partner; KPMG India; Jitendra Balakrishnan, Chief Technology Officer–Optical Networking, STL and Sanjiv Kapur, Co-founder & CTO, Truminds.

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