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Gopal Vittal at FICCI Frames 2023

Gopal Vittal, chief executive officer, Bharti Airtel, discussed the impact of 5G on the media and entertainment sectors on day one of FICCI Frames 2023.

He opened his talk by stating how the telecom industry was viewed differently from 25 March 2020 onwards.

According to Vittal, before the nationwide lockdown for the Covid-19 pandemic, the telecom industry was only remembered when customers didn’t have network on their mobile phone devices, even though it was the spine of the country.

Citing the example of the payment and e-commerce industry, Vittal said, “This is the digital spine on which the country has been working and it has been thanklessly done. Now, 5G is going to change and upend everything and it’s just the start. I see 5G as a supercomputer. It’s a supercomputer connected to the cloud and isn’t just a wireless technology.”

Vittal stated four factors why he believed 5G is a supercomputer.

“I went for a morning walk just outside the hotel and I was getting speeds of around 400 MBPS. We’re getting blazing speeds today because the networks are empty. Speeds will drop as networks fill up, but it will be still substantially more than 4G.”

Compute power
“The computing power is moving to the edge. This is a supercomputer and it’ll change a lot of things.”

“The lag time between a packet moving from one place to another, which is measured in technical terms by a word called latency, diminishes dramatically.”

Connected devices
“Today on a 4G network you can have about a thousand devices in a given area. This will be almost 100x of that. So concurrently many more devices can be run, so everything can be connected.”

Airtel’s usage of 5G
Vittal gave some examples of how Airtel has used 5G innovatively.

“In Uttar Pradesh, we worked in a village and got little children to experience the power of the solar system in a 3D format. A girl was walking through Mars and Saturn through this. With Apollo Hospitals, a doctor could work in real-time to intervene during surgery. We re-created the historic knock that Kapil Dev played in Tunbridge Wells in 1983, where he scored 175 not out to create highlights,” he said.

“The roll-out of 5G is happening at a blazing pace. Airtel is adding around 40 new cities every single day. As of yesterday, we are in 3,500 towns. By March 2024, we’ll be in every single of the 7,000 towns across India and will also be in about 50,000-1,00,00 villages. So it’s an incredible pace of rollout,” said Vittal, before discussing four challenges.

“The applications that are needed to leverage the power of 5G are still not there. This is why the only application is speed. If you have a supercomputer in your pocket, and you’re just using Excel or a Word document, one doesn’t need it. Most of us don’t even know we’re on 5G if we’re just browsing or playing videos on the network. 4G is more than adequate for these functions. So the ecosystem needs to come together. For the first time, the ecosystem is not keeping pace with the telecom industry. Software, IT, and content companies need to keep pace to harness the power of the technology.”

Government support:
“The supercomputer needs to be connected and so we need the infrastructure for it. 5G needs to be connected to the cloud and cannot be sitting in one location. Fibre is the medium around which lots of data can be moved. The challenge here is that the State Governments and municipal corporations have complex rules and ask for huge amounts of money for the same. The Government has done a great job to help us in this, but it’s still not good enough and needs to be sorted out.”

“Thirdly, we need to see regulation. Regulation that was very forward-looking at one point in time has now become backwards-looking. The TRAI chairperson has done some amazing work that’s happened on the regulation of telecom. Some of the moves concerning the spectrum were game-changing. Regulators have taken the bold move of reducing spectrum prices and liberalised it.”

Business models
“Business models need to keep pace and change. Most content companies use subscriptions and advertising to drive revenue. Pay TV has 120 million users and the average cost is Rs 250 per month. The bottom 80 million users pay around Rs 150 per month while the top 40 million pay around Rs 350 per month. The advantage of the distribution and carriage model that has been created in this space is that you can still have 400 to 500 channels and you’re still getting reach. But the direct-to-customer model that the OTT industry works with is actually where the business model will have to change. Either many of these 40 platforms will perish or they’ll allay. They have to break the problem of the distribution and monetisation challenges. We have 330 million users and can help solve the distribution problems.”

Vittal ended his talk by stating, “5G will take about 12-18 months to roll out. Customer expectations are rising every day and the 1-1.5% of the time we fail, we are remembered. When 5G is completely rolled out it will be a different game. But it must be remembered that customers don’t need 5G for daily usage and 4G is completely sufficient.” CampaignIndia

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