The 5G promise for India: How right roadmap can unlock new era!

October 29, 2020 6:00 AM

Policy must address high spectrum costs and right-of-way issues. If this happens, multiple benefits across sectors will get unlocked

Smart agriculture also needs massive data analytics, another focal area for 5G.Smart agriculture also needs massive data analytics, another focal area for 5G.

By Lt Gen SP Kochhar

India has set one of the best examples on connectivity empowering citizens to deal with the Covid-19 crisis. With over 1.1 billion mobile subscribers as of May 2020, it is likely that over 80% of the country’s population has been engaged in meaningful transactions during the pandemic via telecom networks.

India’s National Digital Communications Policy 2018 underscores the importance of 5G, stating that the convergence of a cluster of revolutionary technologies including 5G, along with a growing start-up community, promises to accelerate and deepen digital engagement. The 5G network can make Digital India a reality faster by supporting e-governance, smart-cities, online education, e-health, smart farming and more.

The advent of 5G coincides with the Industry 4.0 revolution; without 5G, there will be significant network gaps in enabling Industry 4.0. 5G-leaders like South Korea, China, the US, and Australia have already started reaping the benefits of the technology. Apart from the industrial sector, 5G can transform a number of other verticals pivotal to India’s growth.

The market value of Indian healthcare is projected to reach $372 billion by 2022. The efficiency and reliability brought by 5G is the key takeaway for modern healthcare applications like remote surgery, patient monitoring, telemedicine, etc.

In farming, sensors in crop monitoring and related applications require high-speed connectivity, which the current 4G technologies fail to deliver with consistency. Smart agriculture also needs massive data analytics, another focal area for 5G.

Smart homes and smart cities will also get a boost with 5G. The network of sensors, smart utility meters and mobile applications demand near-zero latency for effective functioning—possible through 5G. In the automotive sector, 5G has made autonomous vehicle a reality. Current technologies can’t promise the latency required for preventing road accidents and avoiding traffic jams.

Defence is another sector that can benefit from AR and VR. The ubiquitous connectivity promised by 5G will enable the defence force to leverage these advanced technologies for training. In law & order, as social norms evolve, enforcement agencies will have to turn to the use of advanced internet technologies to effectively communicate and collaborate within their system.Reports suggest that nearly 48% of the population in India between 15–40 years of age, with high aspirations but low income is a good target market for online education. However, the flip side at the moment is connectivity issues with current technologies leaving the poor and unprivileged in the dark.

Considering 5G offers significant benefit for the citizens at all levels, it is imperative that the administration supports the industry with a strong and robust inter-ministerial policy structure for end-to-end 5G realization. Based on the report of the inter-ministerial High-Level Forum for 5G India 2020, the government is creating an enabling framework.

However, high spectrum pricing is also a major deterrent. The proposed rate of $65 million per MHz is much higher than the price in other countries. The high pricing of the C-band allocated for 5G may lead to a majority of the spectrum remaining unsold. There are two reasons for this: First, operators in India are unlikely to realise a substantial rise in the revenue with 5G immediately and, second, the capex could also be higher, especially in newer circles.

The Right of Way (ROW) challenges remain yet another concern for infrastructure roll-out. Streamlining the ROW policy and implementing it uniformly across all states has been an ongoing demand from the industry over the past several years. The state government and local bodies need to realise that telecom infrastructure is going to be the backbone; so, it should not be looked at as a source of revenue generation.

In the regulatory context, there is a need for India to enact data protection laws which will enable the adoption and application of technology consistent with market conditions. To boost the morale of operators in India, the government should accept telecom as a key infrastructure for growth and relax the taxation and levies on telecom infrastructure and key projects.

The author is DG, COAI

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