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Optimising 5G benefits to boost India’s economic growth

As the world begins its recovery from the pandemic, countries have learnt the critical importance that digital connectivity now holds. Economic recovery and progress are hinged on digital technologies and governments the world over are starting to prioritise policies that facilitate these key drivers of growth.

The GSMA’s report The Impacts of mmWave 5G in India reveals that 5G technologies are estimated to make an overall contribution of approximately USD 450 billion to the Indian economy (0.6% of GDP) by 2040.

5G is expected to enable new use cases that were not possible with previous technological standards. Unlike previous generations of mobile technology that led to innovations like smartphones and wireless broadband, 5G’s improvements, in terms of lower latency, faster transmission speeds and vastly increased network capacity, are providing new larger scale opportunities for consumers and enterprises.

The Indian government has made great strides toward realising its ambition of making India 5G-ready and harnessing the multiple benefits that accrue from 5G services. It has launched a 5G High Level Forum to ensure that 5G can contribute in delivering government initiatives such as the Digital India, Smart Cities and Smart Village missions, and Aatmanirbhar Bharat. It has also launched the programme Building an End-to-End 5G Test Bed to advance innovation and research into 5G.

The manufacturing sector is set to benefit the most from 5G applications (accounting for 20% of the total benefit), followed by retail (12%) and ICT (11%) as it prepares to adopt new, disruptive technologies to drive improvements in productivity. The Confederation of Indian Industry has tracked 37 Industry 4.0 case studies across the country, in markets including automotive, industrial equipment, food processing and pharmaceuticals. The government initiatives Make In India and Aatmanirbhar Bharat are laying the groundwork to enable small and large companies to develop capabilities in this regard.

5G networks need a mix of spectrum across low (i.e. sub-1 GHz), mid (e.g. 3.5 GHz) and high (e.g. mmWave) bands. mmWave spectrum play a crucial role, enabling the high-speed and ultra-low-latency features required by many 5G applications. They will be key to delivering additional capacity and high throughput in 5G networks. India is expected to assign mmWave spectrum to operators to enable 5G, delivering USD 150 billion in additional GDP for India over the period 2025-40.

As the benefits to enterprises are unlocked by 5G technologies, governments face the daunting challenge of deciding who gets access to spectrum. Mobile operators have the expertise and capabilities to deploy all new use cases following competitive tenders. This ensures that the needs of all businesses can be met and leads to more efficient use of the spectrum. Sharing and leasing are seen as better solutions than set-asides.

Some industrial applications provided by mobile operators that would benefit significantly from 5G include remote control systems, industrial robotics, remote monitoring and quality control, and autonomous factory transport. These applications involve large amounts of data being transmitted by a vast number of connected devices and hence require the reliable, high-capacity, low-latency connectivity of mmWave spectrum.

5G technology has significant transformative potential for the Indian economy. To unlock that potential, the Indian government must encourage investment in the form of timely and affordable spectrum. Widespread high-quality networks maximise access to mobile broadband services for a lower cost to users, including enterprises, which, in turn, drive a significant impact on the digital and the overall economy.

Spectrum is a valuable and scarce public asset that must be made available to mobile operators in a timely and efficient manner. Poorly designed policies will put progress and achieving the full benefits of 5G at risk. The 5G auctions expected to be held in the coming year are of critical importance and should be a key priority for the Government of India.

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