All along India has been a laggard in adopting mobile communication technologies. 3G services started almost a decade after the world adopted it and 4G is half a decade behind. As India embraces the Internet of Things (IoT) in a big way, it is believed that India will finally catch up with the world when 5G is deployed. Nishant Batra, global head of Radio, Site and Indoor at Ericsson, spoke to Anup Jayaram on the technology and its possible applications.
Q: As the world is looking to adopt 5G, how is Ericsson getting ready in India?
A: At the moment, most market momentum is on 4G, but there is increasing inquisitiveness on 5G in the market. One very important thing to notice is that the way 5G is built, it is incremental over 4G. It is not as if we get rid of 4G and build a 5G network. It is an overlay but is also, what we call, a plug-in. 5G doesn’t have to be a transformational network, its iterative so 4G, 4G plus and then 5G happens.
Q: 5G will be used basically for connecting devices rather than connecting people ?
A: We see a lot of use-cases. Here, I am talking global not India. Fixed wireless access is one of the biggest use cases we see for 5G already. Then we see Massive IOT- which is consumer and industrial IOT – connecting devices. We also see some mission critical applications for 5G because of low latency. We also see massive media and broadband uptake on 5G. With fixed wireless I can replace your DSL or fibre connection with a wireless connection. So you have full internet and video at home over wireless. You can run IPTV and other things on it. It’s a full integrated video and internet delivery at home. It competes with DTH technology. We will see some fixed wireless access in the world by 2018. Mission critical means getting city infrastructure, defence equipment, and construction equipment being connected. Think of an elevator. It’s connected by the network in a central location, while the processing is done in the building. If you extract processing out of it and process it, because when you press the button on the elevator the decisions of which floor the elevator will go is entirely in that set-up.
Q: How much of this is actually happening or is it still early days?
A: There are no live 5G networks today, everything is in trial. We are already trialling 5G for two years now- as of now Ericsson has publicized
engagements with 22 customers. In addition to operators, there are industry partners who are interested in 5G to digitize their business, for example
Volvo Construction Equipment. Here, we are talking about remote controlling construction equipment which can be used in hazardous conditions. Academia is the big part of the discussion on 5G. Also there are a lot of industry collaborations which have come through already.
Q: So we can expect much faster connectivity…
A: Yes, we are talking about 1Gigabits per seconds (Gbps)to 10Gbps speed. We are talking about 10 to 100 times of users that we have on 4G today. So if you have about 6 billion users today, we are talking about 50 billion and beyond on 5G networks. We are talking about critical infrastructure control that means city management, fleet management, smart cars etc. Another interesting use case is sensor networks and here battery lifetime is very important criteria for 5G. We are aiming that sensor should be able to live for 10 years without changing a battery.
Q: It improves battery life?
A: Yes exactly. It also improves throughput in network. 5G has two flavours; let’s say in India we have 900MHz-1800MHz and the highest spectrum in India today is 2600Mhz. We are talking about 28GHz. The US FCC just announced 39GHz and 60GHz, so they are talking about frequency sets which are at the extreme end of the spectrum and are talking about using those for 5G.
Q: So these bands cannot be used at all right now?
A: No, some of them are being used and some are still being thought of as an evolution to 5G. It is important to maintain a high contiguous amount of spectrum, say 100- 200MHz. That kind of contiguity can only be obtained at the higher end spectrum because 900 is already very polluted. To facilitate a rapid evolution of 5G access networks and adoption of 5G services we have announced 5G Plug-Ins – software-driven innovations that bring essential 5G technology concepts to today’s cellular networks. The first series of 5G Plug-Ins include Massive MIMO (multiple input multiple output) Plug-IA, which improves the user experience as well as the capacity and coverage of the mobile network. Then there is Multi-User MIMO which increases capacity by transmitting data to multiple user devices simultaneously using the same time and frequency resources. There is Intelligent Connectivity which increases the combined data throughput of 4G and 5G resources by enabling the network to robustly anchor and intelligently route data based on application requirements and network resource availability.
Q: So Plug-ins are already in place?
A: Yes, plug-in technologies have been introduced globally. We are going to launch them in India next year. We feel operators who are now actively deploying 4G, will be able to use these plug-ins as they evolve towards 5G.
Q: What about devices?
A: The device can be a normal device. Because device dependent technology takes longer to adopt. There are of course some devices led technologies
that will come. That is when we go full 5G. That is something we can expect to have in 2019-’20 time frame. That’s not what we are doing now. Those
standards are not final yet, we can still do 5G plug-in without changing the underlying standard for 4G.
Q: On a 28 Gigahertz the network coverage will be very limited?
A: Yes very limited. Most bands in India are auctioned in 40-50 or maximum 75MHz, here we are talking about 3,000MHz. It’s a different paradigm and the application that the US market is now actively thinking is fixed wireless.
Q: The Indian government is connecting fibre to the gram panchromatic. So can you bypass them by doing this?
A: No, you will still need fibre. This is the only last mile, fibre to the panchayat is the backbone network, wireless is always for the last mile.
Q: Will internet of things (IoT) be run entirely on 5G?
A: No, we have already seen that 4G will be a very successful technology for IOT. We have launched technology narrow band IoT, which uses extremely thin amount of spectrum and is able to connect thousands and thousands of devices on 4G. 5G is an IoT technology and will really take off after that, but world needs IoT now. There are operators who are adding more devices than subscribers in different parts of the world.