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‘In Contradistinction to 3G and 4G, 5G Takes us Beyond True Broadband’

Industry veteran T.V.Ramachandran, President, Broadband India Forum, expresses his views on 5G and why this technology will take us much beyond 3G and 4G.

Voice&Data: How do you think the advent of 5G would be different from technologies like 3G and 4G?

T.V.Ramachandran: Understanding and appreciation of 5G requires a totally different mindset from what applicable to 3G and 4G. The latter two are mobile technologies which are progressive baby steps, with different degrees of success, towards broadband. However, 5G goes much beyond that.

Incremental-type of thinking cannot envision the character and potential of 5G. It marks the entry into the true full-fledged
broadband era of ultra-high speeds & bandwidth, ultra-low latency and a truly interconnected world – a continuum of both people and things. It will also usher us into the exciting world of ultra-high definition and virtual reality expectations. Thus, in a sense, in contradistinction to 3G and 4G, it even takes us beyond true broadband. Such ultra-level performance includes an eco-friendly ‘green’ telecom aspect with an incredible reduction in energy consumption per bit by a factor of 1000! Yes, we indeed need a completely fresh mindset to understand the “moonshot” (as Eric Schmidt would have termed it) performance levels of 5G.

Voice&Data: Is India in a position to rollout 5G? What would be the major challenges?

T.V.Ramachandran: Formidable are the challenges always for achieving any “moonshot”. In the case of 5G, spectrum decisions need to be most urgently taken since only then can appropriate follow up actions of implementation of network equipment manufacture can commence. Luckily, it is possible to identify and freeze much of the target spectrum in our case and the TRAI has already launched a consultation on these aspects. These should be quickly concluded and the DoT should take a bold and firm decision at the earliest.
Some other countries appear to have already taken their spectrum decision since they are scheduling their first public launch in the period 2020. We should not lag behind in this key aspect.
However, our most serious challenge lies in the creation of adequate fibre connectivity. I am herein referring not merely to FTTC and FTTH connectivity but to the dire necessity of fibre-connecting almost all our towers. It should be noted that countries like China and US already have 80% fiberization of their towers and are, in this respect, 5G ready, whereas, we are in the inverse situation of only 20% of our towers fiberized.
With the explosion in data, especially video, traffic from the consumer, tremendous increase in backhaul capability – about 4 to 5 times as compared to 4G! – from tower to network core and onward will become an absolute imperative. However much we may excel in other areas of implementation, we could well fall flat if we do not concurrently address the ‘fiberization’, including the “wireless fiberization” using E and V band spectrums, of all towers. However, with Government set to soon announce its decision on E and V band, if we consciously set about it now onwards, I am confident that this critical requirement can be met.

Voice&Data: What types of policies are expected around 5G?

T.V.Ramachandran: Given its incredible characteristics, 5G is bound to be the fertile hotbed of a far higher level of innovation than we can even imagine today. This will also inevitably demand a fresh outlook in policy and regulatory matters. Otherwise, the potential benefits for Digital India could well be lost. For example, even now, despite many improvements in spectrum management and auction-based spectrum allocation, we are still retaining vestiges of ‘command and control’ mindset. We tend to think of spectrum holding per operator in a highly limited or restrictive way, with the dole-out of a few MHz per operator. 5G will not work if we do not eschew such retrograde thinking and have no cap whatsoever for ‘per operator spectrum holding’.
While in the sub 6GHz bands at least 100 MHz per operator is absolutely essential to get the full benefits of 5G, in some of the other 5G spectrum bands, one needs one Gigahertz or more per operator!
A huge change of policy mindset indicated!
Apart from the spectrum area, Policy and Regulation also need to view the 5G world from a fresh perspective in the licensing domain. Here again, the requirement arises of jettisoning the ‘command and control’ approach and adopting liberal pro-innovation modes. Rigid, heavy-handed licensing approach such as applied on TSPs needs to be reviewed urgently. Fortunately, The Indian Telegraph Act of 1885 does permit such an approach.

In fact, a careful reading of The Telegraph Act, especially of Section 4, shows that the Act envisages the word ‘licence’ as a term of art encompassing a wide variety of approaches with widely differing conditionalities of severities and leniencies. Thus a liberal, non-stifling approach that is essential for the 5G era is clearly possible under the Act.

Finally, I would like to state that, in my view, India surely has the potential to be one of the global frontrunners in 5G. The High-Level Government Forum set up to chart the actions in this area is clear evidence of the Government’s top priority thrust for this. We can match – in fact, excel – what we did in ‘92/’93 when DoT charted the course for leapfrogging the analogue era and going straight into the GSM Digital age at a time when GSM was not even commercially launched anywhere in the world. Likewise, although 5G standards still in the process of finalisation, we can start our journey now to take India to a 5G leadership position.
With our unbeatable combination of Digital India, 1.3 billion population and being the nation of youngest workforce, our initiatives on 5G could well decide the way global standards play out.

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