Evolution of newer access technologies and devices has changed the landscape of telecommunications. Data consumption has increased multifold in recent years with proliferation of smart phones with 3G/4G/LTE technologies. The consumer behavior has been shifting rapidly from voice centric requirements to data-driven multiple applications. The variety of the contents mainly in the form of apps and services is increasing day-by-day; variety of services are also being provided through apps to the smartphone and tablet users. Over-the-top (OTT) players are creating new business avenues and bringing new applications for smartphone users.
India has witnessed unprecedented increase in tele-density and sharp decline in tariffs in the telecom sector. The sector has contributed significantly to the country’s economic growth. The National Telecom Policy 2012 (NTP 2012) was conceived against the backdrop to transform the country into an empowered and inclusive knowledge-based society, using telecommunications as a platform. It is a known fact that deployment of the cellular technologies viz. 2G, CDMA, 3G, and 4G/LTE in the country has been lagging behind with deployment of such technologies in prominent markets across the world. Expansion and experience of 4G/LTE has been witnessed in recent couple of years which has resulted in exponential growth of data usage in India. The coverage of 4G/LTE networks is yet to reach small towns as well as rural areas. Mobile data usage has increased from 462 Petabytes in quarter ending September-2016 to 7879 Petabytes in quarter ending March-2018, thereby showing an increase of more than 17 folds. With the exponential growth in data usage, India has become one of the countries with highest mobile data usage.
5G technology: background and future
According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the framework of standards for International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT), encompassing IMT-2000 and IMT-Advanced, spans the 3G and 4G industry perspectives and will continue to evolve as 5G with IMT-2020.
In early 2012, ITU’s radiocommunication sector (ITU-R) embarked on a program to develop IMT for 2020 and beyond, setting the stage for 5G research activities that are emerging around the world. Through the leading role of working party 5D, ITU-R has finalized its view of a timeline toward IMT-2020. The standardization work in 3GPP to support the IMT-2020 requirements in 5G – including the several use cases – has been under development.
ITU-R, in September 2015, has finalized its vision of the 5G mobile broadband connected society. This view of the horizon for the future of mobile technology will be instrumental in setting the agenda for the World Radiocommunication Conference 2019, where deliberations on additional spectrum are taking place in support of the future growth of IMT.
Characteristics of 5G exhibit new generation of radio systems and network architecture that will deliver extreme broadband, ultra-robust, low latency connectivity, and massive networking for human beings and the Internet of Things (IoT). Enabled by 5G, the programmable world will transform our individual lives, economy, and society. It sounds like a bold claim but the reality is starting to take shape as 5G research pushes ahead to make rapid developments.
Key features of 5G are:
- Enhanced mobile broadband communication (eMBB) – @Gigabits/second
- Ultra-reliable and low latency communication (uRLLC) – end-to-end data transfer within a few seconds – stringent requirements for throughput, latency, and availability
- Massive machine to machine communication (mMTC) – millions of devices in a small area
5G will combine existing radio access technologies in both licensed and unlicensed bands, and it will add novel radio optimized for specific bands and deployments, scenarios, and use cases. 5G will also implement a radically new network architecture based on network function virtualization (NFV) and software defined networking (SDN) technologies. Programmability will be central to achieving the hyper-flexibility that operators will need to support the new communication demands placed on them from a wide array of users, machines, and companies from different industries and other organizations such as municipalities or city administrations.
Use scenario and expected growth of 5G technology
In 5G technologies, a mass scale of deployment is expected in the area of IoT and machine-to-machine (M2M) communication. The proliferation of IoT and M2M will have significant impact on our personal lives as well as on the industries, that is, the wide array of IoT and M2M will be from personalized services/application to manufacturing, robotics, and artificial intelligence. This revolution is also called as Industrial Revolution 4.0.
GSMA in its paper on The 5G era: Age of boundless connectivity and intelligent automation has mentioned that 5G networks will primarily support an enhanced mobile broadband experience in early deployments. Other use cases linked to massive IoT and critical communications will follow, as operators seek to unlock the incremental opportunity, particularly in key enterprise verticals. As per GSMA, 5G connections are expected to reach 1.1 billion, some 12 percent of total mobile connections, by 2025. Equipment major Ericsson recently has mentioned that as 5G becomes increasingly vital to industries, there is a rise in the opportunity for new 5G-enabled revenues for operators. Of the total 5G-enabled value in 2026, up to 47 percent is addressable by operators.
Policy framework for 5G and related services in India
Department of Telecommunications (DoT), post formulation of National M2M Roadmap in 2015, had sought TRAI recommendations on certain aspects related to IoT and M2M viz. spectrum requirement, QoS parameters, and roaming. TRAI issued its recommendations to DoT on 5th September, 2017. Apart from the issues referred by DoT, several other issues as felt appropriate have also been touched upon by the authority in its recommendations.
The recommendations of TRAI on M2M communication will supplement the government’s efforts to put in place the policy framework to accelerate the pace of roll out of various industry initiatives by Government of India such as Smart City, Smart Grid, Smart Water, Smart Transportation, and Smart Health.
Apart from the other commercial factors, the deployment of the 5G access networks is likely to depend on some factors viz. identifications of spectrum bands, development of the equipment and device ecosystem in the particular band, and availability of backhaul spectrum.
Policy statement of telecom policy 2018
DoT, on initiation of its efforts formulating the NTP, 2018 has stated that the new telecom policy will be governed by the key guiding principle of alignment with the national vision. Its major themes will, inter-alia, be regulatory and licensing frameworks impacting the telecom sector, connectivity-for-all, quality of services, ease of doing business, and absorption of new technologies including 5G and IoT.
The government, among the initiatives through the new telecom policy, seeks to spur the socioeconomic development up to the bottom of the pyramid by ensuring voice, video, and data connectivity for all. It seeks to provide reliable and secured connectivity with assured quality of service, facilitate development of infrastructure and services for new technologies including 5G and IoT, encourage innovation and manufacturing, and develop a large pool of digitally skilled man-power, by restructuring regulatory and licensing frameworks impacting the telecom sector.
While initiation of the idea of a new telecom policy is in place, the government has inter-alia envisioned that the major themes of the policy will be regulatory and licensing frameworks impacting the telecom sector, connectivity-for-all, quality of services, ease of doing business, and absorption of new technologies including 5G and IoT.
Backhaul related issues in 5G
As per the architecture of the 5G networks, the major component of any 5G network is likely to be ultra-dense network configurations, particularly in metro areas. Hence small cells will without doubt continue to play a crucial role in future.
Challenge of providing backhaul from the small cell to the core network has been a major factor in holding up proliferation of small cells. Mass deployment of small cells will be in direct proportion to availability of cost-effective backhaul networks. A good quality backhaul is required to deliver a high data rate packet-based service. Optical fiber is the most preferred and suitable medium for connecting these small cells to the backhaul of the operator’s network since it has the potential to meet the requirements. Deployment and availability of optical fibers in the country are still inadequate. It is a fact that majority of the traffic from macro cells is still backhauled to the core network through microwave only.
On backhauling of the access networks, TRAI in August, 2014 has recommended augmentation of backhaul capacity in various microwave bands. TRAI in its recommendations dated 29th August, 2014 on Allocation and Pricing of Microwave Access (MWA) and Microwave Backbone (MWB) RF carriers, has recommended that the assignment of MWA carriers should be done on an exclusive basis for the various spectrum bands in the 13–42 GHz range. Allocations in these bands shall cater for microwave backbone requirements of TSPs. These bands are likely to ease the problem of backhauling in 4G and 5G environments. The DoT has yet to take a decision on allocation of carriers in these bands.
The bands above 43 GHz have larger bandwidth. The short links associated with the V-band and E-band also result in greater frequency reuse efficiency. In this regard, TRAI in its recommendations has recommended to DoT to de-license the V-band (57–64 GHz band) for indoor and outdoor access applications like wi-fi hotspots. E-band (71–76 GHz paired with 81–86 GHz) may also be allocated based on light-licensing and at a very nominal price. Best utilization of higher frequency bands such as V-band and E-band could be achieved through a demand and supply based cloud architecture. The DoT has yet to take a decision on allocation of carriers in these bands.
TSPs many a times faces issue prohibitive practices in getting access to provide services in certain pockets, malls, commercial establishments, and residential complexes due to monopoly of one operator or artificial barrier created by the owner/management of these pockets/areas. Further, on better and efficient utilization of the telecom infrastructure, TRAI on 20th January, 2017 has issued suo-moto recommendations on In-Building Access by Telecom Service Providers. The recommendations inter-alia aims for TSPs/IP-Is to be mandated to share the in-building infrastructure (IBS, OFC and other cables, and ducts) with other TSPs, in large public places, commercial complexes, and residential complexes in a transparent, fair, and nondiscriminatory manner. The recommendations of TRAI, once accepted by the government shall supplement the coverage issues within the building or certain pockets.
TRAI recommendations on spectrum bands for 5G
Spectrum in the frequency range 3300–4200 MHz is likely to emerge as a primary band for early 5G introduction. Therefore, a number of countries in different regions are taking action toward refarming 200–400 MHz of contiguous bandwidth in the 3300–4200 MHz frequency range for 5G. This will be the largest contiguous bandwidth for IMT below 6 GHz.
Based on the DoT reference, TRAI on 28th August, 2017 has issued a Consultation Paper on Auction of Spectrum in 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 2300 MHz, 2500 MHz, 3300-3400 MHz and 3400–3600 MHz bands. DoT reference also included the bands that are being considered to be deployed for the 5G ecosystem.
TRAI on 1st August, 2018, released recommendations on Auction of Spectrum in 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 2300 MHz, 2500 MHz, 3300–3400 MHz, and 3400–3600 MHz Bands. Key recommendations of the authority with regard to the newly identified IMT 3300–3400 MHz and 3400–3600 MHz bands are:
- 3300–3600 MHz should be auctioned as a single band and TDD-based frequency arrangement should be adopted for this band
- Spectrum in the 3300–3600 MHz band should be put to auction in the block size of 20 MHz. To avoid monopolization of this band, there should be a limit of 100 MHz per bidder. Since the TSPs are allowed to trade their partial or complete spectrum holding to another TSP, the limit of 100 MHz spectrum in the 3300–3600 MHz band, shall also apply for spectrum trading
- In case a TSP acquires more than one block, the entire spectrum should be assigned to it in contiguous form
- In case a TSP acquires spectrum in the 3300–3600 MHz band in more than one LSA, same frequency spots should be assigned to it in all those LSAs
In the World Radio Congress (WRC) to be organized by ITU in 2019, more and higher bandwidth frequency bands are expected to be adopted for 5G mobile allocations. The scenario on spectrum issues is likely to be clearer after WRC -19. The 5G ecosystem while bringing the societal impact and penetration will render the telecom operator to focus on its capabilities in the access side as well as in the core side of the network. The major revenue stream for the network operator will be the bandwidth capacity and capability; however, other revenue streams that are not visible now could also be available to the stakeholders. Industrial Revolution 4.0 will be led by 5G networks.
Vision of draft NTP 2018 echoes the expanding scope of telecom to proliferate beyond the telecom sector. Telecom has set to become the backbone in the era of Smart Living, Industrial Revolution 4.0, Digital Economy, Connected World, e-Governance, and several such technology-led concepts.
The initiatives envisaged through the draft telecom policy, seek to spur the socioeconomic development up to the bottom of the pyramid by ensuring voice, video, and data connectivity for all. It seeks to provide reliable and secured connectivity with assured quality of service, facilitate development of infrastructure and services for new technologies including 5G and IoT, encourage innovation and manufacturing, and develop a large pool of digitally skilled man-power, by restructuring regulatory and licensing frameworks impacting the telecom sector.