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Readying for 6G – India’s vision for digital leadership

As the dawn of 6G technology approaches, the global telecommunications landscape stands on the brink of a major evolutionary leap. Under the steadfast vision of our Hon’ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, India has sounded the clarion call to take lead in 6G, which has reverberated globally. Our nation stands at the cusp of a transformative era, building upon the solid foundations laid in the 5G landscape. The inception of 6G is not just a technical upgrade; it is a transformative shift that could redefine the digital experience, enabling real-time connectivity across the most remote corners of India and fostering economic growth through innovation.

Understanding 6G
Sixth-Generation (6G) wireless technology represents the next frontier in mobile telecommunications, following on the heels of the 5G networks currently being deployed. While 5G focuses on enhanced mobile broadband, ultra-reliable low-latency communications and massive machine-type communications, 6G aims to revolutionize the interaction between humans and the digital world, further blurring the lines between physical and virtual realities.

6G is anticipated to support terabit-per-second (Tbps) data rates, near-zero latency, and unparalleled reliability. It will also introduce new dimensions in communication, including high-fidelity mobile holography, multi-sensory data transmission, and precision sensing. These attributes will open the door for transformative applications in telemedicine, smart cities, autonomous systems, and advanced manufacturing, enabling seamless human-machine interfaces and fostering applications that are still in the realm of science fiction.

Global 6G landscape
As 6G begins to take shape, countries around the globe are investing in research and development to stake their claim in the future of telecommunications. The United States, China, the European Union, and South Korea are among the frontrunners, launching initiatives to explore the potential of 6G and its enabling technologies. Japan has also joined this race, with NTT announcing their plan to invest in the 6G space.

Standardization bodies, including the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), have begun to consider the frameworks that will underpin 6G. The collaborative efforts are focusing on defining the frequencies, technologies, and architectures that will form the backbone of 6G networks.

Technical innovation behind 6G
The technical innovations underpinning 6G are expected to be a convergence of advancements from various domains. The core innovations span from sub-terahertz (THz) radio frequencies, which promise to offer vast bandwidth and high data rates, to advanced photonics for ultra-fast data transmission. Moreover, 6G is likely to leverage novel networking paradigms, such as network slicing and edge computing to a greater extent, providing customized virtual networks and reducing latency by bringing computation closer to end users. Artificial intelligence (AI) will play a pivotal role in managing the complexity of 6G networks, enabling predictive maintenance, energy efficiency, and intelligent resource allocation. Quantum communications and computing are also on the horizon as potential game-changers for secure communications and complex problem-solving.

Economic potential of 6G in India
The economic impact of 6G in India could be profound, opening up new avenues for growth, innovation, and social progress. India’s burgeoning digital economy, with its vast base of mobile users, presents an ideal landscape for 6G deployment. By leveraging 6G technology, India could see significant improvements in industrial productivity, healthcare outcomes, and education delivery, along with creating a fertile ground for start-ups and new ventures in the tech space.

The introduction of 6G in India is expected to fuel job creation, both directly in the telecom and technology sectors, and indirectly by enabling new business models and services. It could significantly enhance the Digital India initiative, providing high-speed connectivity to the most remote areas and thus, democratizing access to information and opportunities.

Standardization and regulations
At this juncture, understanding two pivotal pillars of 6G becomes imperative – standardization and policy regulations. These building blocks are not just technical aspects but the cornerstones that will define the global landscape of 6G connectivity, ensuring seamless integration, innovation, and widespread accessibility.

As technology progresses, policies and regulations must evolve in tandem. India’s policies, meticulously established for 5G, are now positioned to seamlessly extend to the 6G landscape. This shift represents a departure from the Make in India approach to a more expansive Made in India strategy. Supported by robust financial backing and a focused effort in policy formulation, India is steadily transitioning to becoming a global exporter of advanced telecom technologies. While the transformation may seem gradual, India is steadfast in its journey toward embracing 6G with open arms, reinforcing its commitment to global standards.

Industry support and collaboration
India’s 6G journey is gaining substantial backing from industry stakeholders. Nokia, for example, has established a ground-breaking 6G lab in Bengaluru to focus on foundational technologies, such as network-as-a-sensor. Serving as a collaborative platform, the lab fosters innovation and tests new solutions that bridge the gap between the digital and physical worlds. This collaborative effort among the government, academia, and industry players showcases India’s vibrant and dynamic tech landscape.

In another instance, Ericsson is focusing on India 6G program, leveraging its seasoned research leaders and experts in radio, networks, AI, and cloud technologies across R&D centers in Chennai, Bengaluru, and Gurgaon. Collaborating with global counterparts in Sweden and the US, Ericsson’s India research team focuses on creating a cyber-physical continuum, ensuring the delivery of critical services, immersive communications, and omnipresent IoT experiences while upholding data integrity.

India’s unique position
India’s distinct position in the 6G landscape lies in its ability to address specific challenges and opportunities, unique to the nation. The integration of AI in 6G networks, with emphasis on automation and intelligent transformation, highlights the paramount importance of cybersecurity. Stringent security measures are being integrated into 6G infrastructure, ensuring data privacy and bolstering overall cybersecurity, thus fostering a secure digital environment. Moreover, India’s focus on the evolution of openness and customization in 6G is crucial. Collaborative efforts within the telecom industry are aimed at effectively addressing these challenges, exploring emerging applications, achieving universal network coverage and developing a flexible, redundant, and self-healing network. These initiatives form the core of India’s holistic strategy.

Lessons from 5G and role of the youth
The rollout of 5G in India, while setting world records for its speed, has also brought to light the critical need for applications that can fully utilize the network’s capabilities. The experience has underscored the importance of developing a robust ecosystem of applications and services that can drive the use and, consequently, the revenues necessary to sustain the network. As we transition to 6G, the focus on nurturing indigenous applications and services that cater to the unique needs of the Indian market becomes paramount. In this context, the role of India’s youth is crucial. For India to become a leader in 6G, our youngsters must step forward to create innovative applications tailored to this new technology. This aligns with the Prime Minister’s ambition for India to not only expand its 5G network, but to also take the lead in 6G technology development.

A vision for the future
India envisions a future, where 6G networks seamlessly connect humans and machines, blurring the boundaries between the physical and digital realms to create immersive experiences. The India 6G era, envisioned in collaboration with the government, academia, and the industry ecosystem, marks a significant milestone in India’s technological journey. With a legacy of being a global 5G leader, India, alongside its industry partners, is well-positioned to pioneer the 6G revolution, ushering in a new era of innovation and connectivity.

As India prepares to host the prestigious World Telecommunication Standardisation Assembly (WTSA) in 2024, the nation stands as a beacon of technological prowess, ready to shape the future of global telecommunications. With a forward-thinking approach, collaborative spirit and a robust foundation in 5G technologies, India’s journey into the 6G era promises a quantum leap, propelling the nation into the forefront of the global technological evolution.

This article is authored by Lt. Gen. Dr. SP Kochhar, Director General, Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI). Views expressed are personal.

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