By Jatin Grover
India on Saturday transitioned from 4G to 5G technology with the launch of the service in select cities by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Mukesh Ambani, Sunil Bharti Mittal and Kumar Mangalam Birla, leaders of the top three telecom operators — Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea, respectively — demonstrated to the PM one potential use case each of this technology.
Bharti Airtel scored over Jio by becoming the first operator to launch the services in eight cities — Delhi, Mumbai, Varanasi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Nagpur and Siliguri. Over the next year and a half, the company promises to cover the entire country. While Saturday’s launch means going live with the technology, subscribers can avail the services only when the company announces retail and tariff plans.
Jio said its services will commence from Diwali and cover the whole of India by December 2023. Vodafone Idea did not give any timeline but said it will soon begin the 5G rollout journey.
“5G marks the dawn of a new era and presents a sea of opportunities,” Modi said, inaugurating the service at the India Mobile Congress.
The PM added, “India may not have benefitted from the first three industrial revolutions, but will not only take full benefit of the fourth industrial revolution, it will also lead it.”
The Prime Minister said his government’s vision for Digital India was founded on four pillars — the cost of devices, digital connectivity, data cost and a digital-first approach.
This approach has led to mobile-manufacturing units in the country increasing from just two in 2014 to over 200 now, bringing down the cost of handsets, he said.
Modi underlined the fact that in India’s data tariffs are the lowest in the world — from Rs 300 per GB in 2014, to less than Rs 10 per GB at present. Going by the average consumption of 14 GB data per month, the data cost has come down from Rs 4,200 to Rs 125-150, he said.
From zero exports, the country is now shipping phones worth crores of rupees. Also, digital payments have increased, he pointed out, saying technology has truly become democratised.
Bharti Airtel beating Reliance Jio in the launch of this high-speed service came as a surprise. Bharti Enterprises chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal did not lose the opportunity to point out that on 5G, Airtel has done to Jio what the latter did to them on 4G.
“We had started 4G in India, but Mukesh’s Jio gave tremendous speed to countrywide 4G proliferation and forced us to catch up fast, and today Airtel will become the first to launch the 5G services,” Mittal said at the India Mobile Congress. As is known, Jio had in September 2016 made an entry into the telecom sector, offering free voice calls and dirt-cheap data, forcing the competition to either match or fold up/consolidate.
Both Jio and Airtel had earlier announced that their 5G services would be launched by Diwali and by 2023-end, the entire country would be covered, so the latter launching services on Saturday came as a surprise.
On his part, Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani once again promised affordable 5G services. “Today, I want to reiterate Jio’s commitment to deliver 5G to every town, every taluka, and every tehsil of our country by December 2023,” he said.
Vodafone Idea is the only operator which on Saturday did not give any timeline for the launch of its 5G services, but only said it will soon begin the 5G roll-out journey. “We will leverage our strong presence in rural India, our enterprise customers, our tech partners, and global experience of Vodafone Group for progressively rolling out our 5G network and services in the coming period,” Aditya Birla Group chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla said.
Ambani said most of Jio’s 5G is developed in India, and hence carries the stamp of Atmanirbhar Bharat. He added that 5G and 5G-enabled digital solutions can bring affordable and high-quality education and skill development within the reach of common Indians.
“By bringing AI into every domain, 5G can power India’s emergence as the world’s intelligence capital. This will help India become a major exporter of high-value digital solutions and services,” he said, adding all these will trigger a huge explosion of entrepreneurship in the country, which, in turn, will attract even larger investments and create millions of new jobs.
“It will not be an exaggeration to say that 5G is like a Digital Kamadhenu, the heavenly cow that grants whatever we desire,” he said.
“Today is an important day for the country since it is the start of a new era. I believe that the start of this era during the 75th anniversary of Azadi ki Amrit Mahotsav will bring in new awareness, new energy and open up a lot of new opportunities for citizens in India,” Mittal said while talking about the scope of 5G services.
“We are proud and lucky to have a leader who understands technology in detail. I usually meet several people in the world. While a lot of leaders appreciate technology, understanding it in detail and using it for the country’s progress, I don’t think anyone can do it like PM Modi,” he added. Mittal said 5G services would spawn several use cases, 1,000 more entrepreneurs and dozens of unicorns in the coming years.
On his part, Birla said, “We have 240 million people connected to our networks with 50% of them in rural India. Our networks have been constantly upgraded to be capable of swift and smooth migration to 5G. Having taken concrete steps for 5G ecosystem development, 5G use case for Indian enterprises and consumers and acquisition of 5G spectrum in well-designed auction, we will soon begin the 5G roll-out journey.”
He said critical policy interventions by the government in the telecom space had boosted investor confidence, and hoped that the sector will continue to receive policy support.
After the launch of the services by the PM, the three major telecom operators demonstrated one use case each to show the potential of 5G technology in India.
Jio connected a teacher from a school in Mumbai with students in three different locations in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Odisha. This demonstrated how 5G will facilitate education by bringing teachers closer to students. It demonstrated the power of Augmented Reality (AR) on screen and how that is being used to teach children across the country, remotely, without the need of an AR device. Modi interacted with schoolchildren in the demo case, asking them about their favourite subject and how the use of technology has helped in learning.
The Vodafone Idea test case demonstrated the safety of workers in an under-construction tunnel of Delhi Metro through the creation of a ‘digital twin’ of the tunnel on the dais. The digital twin will help give safety alerts to workers in real-time from a remote location. Modi interacted with Delhi Lt Governor VK Saxena as well as the workers in the tunnel.
In the Bharti Airtel demo, a girl from Uttar Pradesh witnessed a lively and immersive education experience to learn about the solar system with the help of virtual reality and augmented reality. The girl shared her experience of learning with the PM by appearing on the dais through a hologram.