February 25, 2021

What is 5G and how ready is India for this technology?

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has requested inputs from telcos and other professionals regarding the sale and use of radio frequency spectrum over the next 10 years, including 5G bands.

What is 5G technology and how is it different?

5G or Fifth Generation is the latest upgrade of the Long Evolution (LTE) mobile broadband networks. 5G mainly operates in 3 bands, namely low, medium and high frequency spectrum – all of which have their own uses and limitations.

The maximum speed is limited to 100 Mbps (megabits per second), while low band spectrum has shown great promise in terms of internet and data transfer coverage and speed. This means that telcos can be used and installed by commercial cell phone users who do not have specific demands for high speed internet, which is not optimal for the special needs of the low band spectrum industry.

The mid-band spectrum, on the other hand, offers higher speeds compared to the lower band, but has limitations in terms of coverage area and penetration of signals. Telcos and companies, a leader in 5G, have pointed out that the band can be tailored to the needs of specific industries to create captive networks by businesses and specialized factory units.

The high-band spectrum offers the highest speeds of all three bands, but with the lowest level of coverage and signal penetration strength. Internet speeds in the high-band spectrum of 5G are tested at 20 Gbps (gigabits per second), and in most cases, the maximum internet data speed on 4G is 1 Gbps.

Where does India stand in the 5G technology race?

India plans to launch 5G services soon in 2018, with the aim of harnessing the best network speeds and strengths guaranteed by technology, on par with global players.

All three private telecom players, Reliance Jio Infocomm, Bharti Airtel and V, have been urging the DOD to allocate spectrum and clear roadmap of 5G frequency bands so that they can plan to exit their services accordingly. One major hurdle, however, is the lack of cash flow and adequate capital for at least two of the three players, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea.

On the other hand, Reliance Jio plans to launch a domestically built 5G network for the country in the second half of this year. The company is said to have a complete end-to-end 5G solution that is ready to deploy once the networks are in place. This solution can also be used by other telecom operators as a fully managed service.

What is the global advancement in 5G?

More than governments, global telecommunications companies have begun to build 5G networks and offer them to their customers on a trial basis. In countries such as the United States, companies such as AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon have been at the forefront of introducing commercial 5G to their users.

While some companies, such as AT&T, began testing the technology in 2018, other companies such as Verizon followed suit, expanding 5G ultra-wide broadband services to 60 cities by the end of 2020. As for China in other countries, some telcos like China Unicom started testing 5G as early as 2018 and have since introduced business services for users.

Samsung, a South Korean company that began researching 5G technology in 2011, on the other hand, has been at the forefront of developing hardware for 5G networks for many companies.