Apart from the popular views about 5G providing high speed data transfers, 5G is more about bringing a paradigm shift in connectivity.
By V Sridhar & Heikki Hämmäinen
The Covid-19 pandemic has transformed the way we work and live. With social distancing being the norm, dependence on telecom and internet infrastructure has become a necessity. It is an opportune time for policymakers, regulators and service providers to lead massive deployment of 5G. While conspiracy theories abound regarding 5G technologies helping transmit coronavirus, it is time to dispel myths about 5G!
Apart from the popular views about 5G providing high speed data transfers, 5G is more about bringing a paradigm shift in connectivity. In a recent report, McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) has estimated an increase in global GDP by about $2 trillion through the use of 5G in key sectors such as healthcare, retail, mobility and manufacturing. Deployment of 5G is not only the responsibility of telcos and mobile operators. All stakeholders need to work together to solve inter-operability problems in IT systems, data, and connectivity so that integrated solutions for each domain can be deployed.
Due to rapid digitisation India holds the potential to reap maximal benefit from deploying 5G. In fact, the MGI report addresses the potential of 5G separately for India and China along with other countries, indicating thereby the huge economic benefits that accrue to these countries. MGI predicts that India will benefit by about $0.2-0.3 trillion when the unconnected population comes online.
The 5G deployments require systemic thinking about various use cases including integrated command centres for fleet management, AI-enabled predictive healthcare, automated guided vehicles in manufacturing, personalised retail store experience, continuous monitoring and effective utilisation of energy, stringent measurement and proactive management of pollution levels, to name a few. The deployment needs a carefully orchestrated coordination of different entities and integration of systems. This also requires investment by different stakeholders in the 5G ecosystem.
An example of such systems using a cooperative model involving town municipalities, connectivity providers and domain service providers are being tested in the smart city of Espoo in Finland. In a project called Neutral Host Pilot (NHP), the city is considering an alternative way to the traditional uncoordinated jungle of mobile operator antennas. Instead of telcos constructing 5G small cells and smart 5G light poles along streets, the city is planning to deploy shared 5G base stations. This Neutral Host having its own local spectrum license (e.g. 26 GHz) provides the 5G facility for national telcos, who run their services as virtual operators. This trend likely affects the national mobile ecosystem and speeds up local innovation in IoT connectivity. The project also envisions a shared data platform wherein the data collected by IoT devices and sensors is collated and shared using a standard interface for development of applications by local ecosystem partners.
The 5G systems also must comply with varied regulations including data privacy and protection, cyber-security laws, telecom interconnection agreements. It is time that regulators and policymakers look at 5G deployment as a system that has cascading benefits. This requires putting in place new forms of self and co-regulation instead of the command-and-control regime; liberalised scarce resource policies including spectrum sharing across private and public entities; enabling future technologies such as Wi-Fi 6 by releasing spectrum in 6 GHz for unlicensed use; releasing 26 and 60 GHz millimetre wave spectrum for micro-cellular coverage in dense urban areas; mandating open standards for data and connectivity; pooling investment for co-working and value creation by different entities; enabling non-discriminatory access to infrastructure and services; and revamping the traditional multi-licensing model to a simplified possibly dual infrastructure and service-based licensing.
India, with its overstressed physical infrastructure, and the associated inefficiencies can benefit hugely from deployment of integrated 5G digital infrastructure. Proactive industry-friendly policy is the need of the hour for India to attain the true benefits of 5G.
Sridhar is professor, IIIT, Bengaluru & Hämmäinen is professor, Aalto University, Finland. Views are personal