Next-gen telecom tech is almost here, but consumers need basic issues redressed

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July 30, 2019 2:03 AM

People expect extended battery life and extreme inbuilt storage to be standard for 5G devices, but first let’s see if 5G will let us make a drop-free voice call.

Next-gen telecom tech is almost here, but consumers need basic issues redressed

I dread every time I pick up the phone to make a call. There is no guarantee I’ll be able to connect. If I connect, I usually ask: ‘Can you hear me?’ Most voice calls end up in failures, gradually making WhatsApp calls the new normal. So it is natural the imminent launch of a new technology like 5G will offer some hope to ‘voiceless’ telecom users. It is also ironical that when some parts of the world are rolling out the latest generation of telecom networks that can stream an interactive 8K video in 3D, we are struggling to make a regular voice call that many would think is the basic requirement of a telephone network.

But then how easy will the shift to 5G networks be? In a recent conversation, Nitin Bansal, head of Ericsson India, and head of Network Solutions Ericsson South East Asia, Oceania & India, told me that at least for his company switching on 5G services will be as easy as activating the service in areas where network operators are using its latest radios. But then 5G will be only as good, or bad, as 4G without the bandwidth. “Our fight is also about getting better speed, which comes with bandwidth. Now, that’s where 3.5GHz and 28GHz play a key role, because our recommendation is at least 100MHz to see the value of the higher data,” explained Bansal. There will be improvements. “Activating 5G on the existing radios, you get speeds similar, maybe a few per cent better than 4G, and you will get the advantage of lower latency,” he said.

Ericsson’s studies project the data traffic per smartphone per month, which is already the highest in India at 9.8GB, to double by 2024, as total subscriptions reach 1.1 billion. But it won’t all be 5G-driven. By 2024, LTE is expected to account for 82% of all mobile subscriptions in India, compared to 38% in 2018, and 5G will account for just 6% of total subscriptions. So don’t expect the pain points to go away; there might be some new ones too for the early movers.

But there will be a huge impact on the economy as a whole, with the increased data speeds offering new opportunities and use cases, some of which we might not even know currently. Rohan Agarwal, director of Micromax, who is tasked with expanding the company’s footprint in the consumer electronics space, is looking forward to 5G to push India’s television consumers to the next level. “Customers now prefer OTT applications like Netflix and Amazon Prime, as viewing patterns have changed over time, from cable to digital satellite to now video on-demand,” Agarwal said, explaining why the company will start exiting from non-smart TVs above 32 inches. So even at the base level, companies are expecting a shift towards smarter, data-driven TVs. And since fibre is still not ubiquitous in a country like India, taking high-speed data to homes might rest on the shoulders of 5G.

At the top end of the pile, companies like Samsung are already selling 8K QLED smart TVs as Japan prepares to offer 8K streaming of the Tokyo Olympics next year. However, that is not something 4G networks can handle.

“For me, an important use-case for India is fulfilling the need of subscribers to get high-speed internet connectivity at home. When it comes to industry, there is a lot of work going on in B2B. Then again, it is also country-specific … you are trying to solve something that can be improved in a certain country or a city or a specific application,” explained Bansal. Ericsson’s studies have shown that Indian smartphone users are willing to pay more than 66% premium for 5G services like 5G TV, VR Cloud Gaming, 5G in-car entertainment, and Virtual Tactile Shopping. Interestingly, consumers’ expectations from 5G are based a lot on their current struggles. Most expect extended battery life and extreme inbuilt storage to be standard for 5G devices, the first of which have already been announced this year.

While 5G is expected to ease the 4G congestion and make connectivity there better, it will also open up new areas of revenue. “One is the normal enhanced mobile broadband kind of applications … so more subscribers, more usage, more revenue. The other one is on non-consumer use-cases, in more B2B kind of use-cases,” he said, adding that 5G will open up additional revenues of about $27 billion by 2027, of which approximately $13 billion will go through operators. But first let’s see if 5G will let us make a drop-free voice call.

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