5G: Challenges and Opportunities

India has recently been experimenting with specific 5G use cases that are unique to the country, many of which were hitherto shelved.

Pradeep Chakraborty
New Update

The 5G rollout in India will likely take time due to the 5G spectrum acquisition, as it is expected to be expensive. There will also be consistency issues, such as with networks and handsets. Some users are still on 3G networks, and others have 4G, and access to LTE networks, in certain cities. Even the handsets use varies, when talking to each other, as there may be issues due to the inconsistencies in the networks available.

On the other side, the Small Cell Forum (SCF) recently released the 5G FAPI (Femto Application Platform Interface) this year. 5G FAPI is a transformational initiative within the small cell industry to encourage competition and innovation among suppliers of platform hardware, platform software and application software. It will be providing a common API, around which suppliers of each component can compete. System vendors can take advantage of the latest innovations in silicon and software with minimum barriers to entry, and the least amount of custom re-engineering.


5G PHY API is the latest in a series of common interfaces, which the Small Cell Forum has defined to underpin an open, small-cell architecture and ecosystem, and the first in a family of 5G APIs. Open APIs at every level – chip, network and application – are central to the vision that, in the 5G era, mobile platforms will be interoperable. Low barriers to entry will encourage broad innovation and competition.

SCF has been engaged in driving these open platforms. It has seen several of its interfaces adopted by standards bodies like 3GPP and open initiatives like ORAN Alliance and Open Air Interface. The first 5G FAPI release is 5G FAPI: PHY API.

Next, Amkor Technology Inc. is among the world’s largest providers of outsourced semiconductor assembly and test (OSAT) services. It is developing antenna-in-package (AiP) products, with revolutionary packaging concepts vital to highly integrated circuitry.

For the advanced, high frequency discrete antenna/transceiver applications, it employs wafer-level package technologies, where, the metal redistribution layers that form the antennae elements, are high precision, repeatable, and easily tuned for the application. The result is a highly integrated, robust, and cost-effective solution for 5G mmWave antenna applications.

When higher levels of system integration are desired, Amkor employs advanced SiP and RF shielding technologies. Amkor has developed RF SiPs containing the complete RF to baseband system function with an integrated antenna and antenna matching circuitry. The result is a fully integrated AiP, where all the elements of at least one complete RF system are included in the format of a single semiconductor package. These advanced SiP AiP products are ramping production at Amkor this year.

What will change in 5G?

Now, let’s see what will change in 5G? Rajan S. Mathews, DG, COAI, noted that once commercially deployed, will usher in a plethora of disruptive changes. India has recently been experimenting with specific 5G use cases that are unique to the country – many of which were hitherto shelved and thought to be unrealistic.

New technologies such as autonomous vehicles, smart healthcare, smart agriculture, smart transportation and traffic management, drones, and remote consultation by doctors amongst others, are pretty much within the realms of possibility now, with the advent of 5G. Emerging technologies such as IoT, M2M, AI, AR, and AI are set to make fast strides once 5G and 5G-enabled technologies come to the fore.

He said: “5G will usher in a networked society, in a true sense. With the emergence of IoT, more and more devices are getting digitally inter-connected and interactive in nature. Also, with 5G, business landscapes and networks will be very different from what it is today. Further, 5G will open up newer opportunities of employment while digitising the economy, thus boosting the country’s GDP. 5G has the potential to connect India with global markets and help the country take advantage of the economies of scale. It is estimated that 5G’s collective impact on India’s economy is expected to reach a whopping $1 trillion by 2035.”

Elias Aravantinos, principal analyst, IHS Markit, USA, remarked that it will be on the sheer amount of data the 5G technology can transfer and the extremely low latency, which affects how fast pages load, mission-critical applications or even online games, self-driving cars and other similar apps.

Arnob Roy, COO, Tejas Networks, implied that 5G represents a significant advance over previous mobile technology generations (2G/3G/4G) in three important ways:

* Explosion in user devices and access speeds: 5G is expected to increase per-cell throughput by at least 10x, when compared to 4G/LTE, and lead to a massive 100x increase in the number of user devices through emergence of IoT.

*Densification and fiberization of cell sites: 5G will drive a 10x growth in the number of cell sites and also require a significant increase in the fiberization of the existing cell towers. 5G is introducing new centralized radio access architecture (C-RAN ) that involves connecting multiple ‘micro’ radio sites at the street level to a centralized macro cell tower over optical fiber.

* Support for low-latency applications: 5G will require a reduction in network latencies by a factor of 10x to support real-time tactile Internet applications (e.g., robotic surgery) and for supporting mission-critical applications (e.g., public safety, emergence responders).

Is 100% indigenization possible in India?

One key debate in India has been to produce goods and equipment within the country. Rajan S. Mathews, COAI, said it is a fallacy to believe that 100% “indigenization” can make India secure in the 5G era. For instance, even China has only achieved only 45% indigenization. To be really 5G ready, India would require a total investment of $100 billion over the next 5 to 7 years. The 5G High-Level Forum has been established to provide the much needed boost for implementation of 5G in India.

A critical component of ‘security’ is the adoption of the appropriate standards. In 5G (3GPP), security is built into the standards. This was not the case in 2G, 3G or even 4G.The Government should take necessary steps to encourage indigenization, and create Indian technology conglomerates with the necessary enabling mechanism, so as to support their sustenance. The Government can also zero-in on promising Indian 5G equipment industries and source-fund them. Cases in point can be Signalchips, Nivetti and Tejas Networks. Further, the Indian Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology can monitor the chip-fund, via a committee.

Arnob Roy added that today’s telecom products are highly sophisticated systems that use complex silicon chips having several million logic elements along with software code running into millions of lines. In such systems, any post-facto security testing is highly ineffective, since it is very easy to implant spyware/malware in hardware and/or software, which is impossible to detect, but which can easily intercept sensitive information or cause catastrophic damage to critical equipment.


Hence, the best approach is to use trusted domestic products that are 100% indigenous, and are fully designed and developed in India so that the control, ‘know-how’ and ‘know- why’ remains within India. With the upcoming 5G networks, this security threat will be further aggravated, since 5G will be the network of people, as well as of machines and IoT. Compromising security on new telecom networks will have a serious impact on our country’s future.

Elias Aravantinos felt that security in the end-to-end network is a matter of trusted supplier and using the right equipment. Adapting only certified products used in critical infrastructure and by key telecom operators, India could be secure in the 5G era.

India-specific 5G roll out model

Given this scenario, how can policy makers have an India-specific 5G roll out model? Arnob Roy felt that since 5G rollouts in India are probably still 2-3 years away, policy makers should establish a national mission to promote our domestic ecosystem. They can set up a dedicated 5G fund for R&D of the Indian telecom products, thereby, creating Centers of Excellence (CoE) around 5G use cases that are relevant to India (e.g., rural broadband, precision agriculture, integrated access and backhaul), and ensuring the availability of background 5G IPR owned by foreign MNCs to domestic manufacturers on FRAND terms.

“Once we build a strong domestic eco-system in 5G, it will reduce our telecom import bill (one of the top-3 items of our trade deficit), and also use it to promote exports for many years to come,” he said.

According to Elias Aravantinos, policy makers direct and distribute the amount of bandwidth in certain frequency bands via spectrum auctions to operators. That action could indicate the use case that around 3.5GHz is, usually, advanced mobile broadband service, instead of fixed wireless access.

He added: “The wider the channels, with more bandwidth, will allow the operators to design easier cost plans and offer higher capacity to the end users with multiple services. Even if they have additional spectrum for nationwide coverage, they should aim to possibly offer unlimited 5G data plans.

Rajan S. Mathews said the 5G High Level Committee has recommended ministries to undertake necessary measures towards enhancing spectrum availability, ensuring their efficient allocation and lowering current cost of spectrum.

To address diversified requirements from the envisioned 5G usage scenarios, 5G needs access to "high", "medium" and "low" frequencies, exploiting specific characteristics of different portions of the spectrum: frequencies between 1 and 6 GHz (e.g. 3300-3800 MHz) in combination with frequencies below 1 GHz (e.g. 700 MHz) and above 6 GHz (e.g. 3GPP band n258 : 24.25-27.5 and is commonly called 26GHz, 3GPP band n257 : 26.5 – 29.5GHz commonly called 28GHz and 37-43.5 GHz). A sufficient amount of harmonized spectrum in each layer should be made available by the national regulators in a timely manner to enable mobile operators to deliver 5G services.

Technology neutral spectrum licenses are essential. They allow bands used for existing mobile technologies to be easily reframed for 5G thus ensuring spectrum is used most efficiently.

Implementation of 5G will require major ecosystem alterations with respect to spectrum usage, network infrastructure and devices, thereby necessitating massive expenditure by telecom companies. While newer bands will be introduced for 5G, the reserve prices recommended by TRAI are still quite expensive. For example, it is INR 4.92 billion per megahertz unpaired spectrum for the proposed 5G band of 3300-3600Mhz. While the cost of 5G spectrum in some bands is kept comparatively low in India, it is still higher when compared to cost of spectrum of such band in other countries.

Spectrum harmonization is indispensable for a country like India, as it would not only enhance availability of adequate spectrum for 5G-based services, but would also reduce the prices of telecom equipment to a large extent. The government aims to generate $2.9 billion from the sale of 75MHz in the 700MHz band, 200MHz at 3.6-3.8GHz and 1GHz in the 26.5-27.5GHz range. This has attracted interest from companies that want to use 5G as a broadband technology in regions that are hard to reach with fiber optics.

While a number of countries have already taken definitive steps towards the adoption of 5G, it is advisable for India to look at bidding for 5G spectrum bands by late 2019 or early 2020, as by then, the industry will have the requisite knowledge of the cost of equipment and relevant use cases, which in turn would open up potential revenue streams for service providers.

Ankit Agarwal , CEO, STL, said the government should implement policies to encourage fibre deployment for 5G backhaul and fronthaul. To provide a true 5G experience in India, the country will have to increase fiber deployment by 4-5x.

While India was slow to capitalize on 2G, 3G and 4G, it has shown the clear intent to get on-board the 5G spectrum. Preparedness and forecasts will help India roll out the 5G model by 2020. Since the Indian spectrum is rather expensive, the Government has set up a high-level forum to define a roadmap for the rollout. The primary focus area is an increase in the quantum of spectrum while lowering prices.

The forum has suggested three key initiatives -- setting up national 5G events, organizing global 5G events in India, and creating a comprehensive roadmap to develop India-specific applications. Initially, 5G software and applications will require government funding.

In the first year, the Indian leaders have recommended an estimate of INR 300 crore. Consecutive investments of INR 400 crore, INR 500 crore and INR 400 crore will be made in each following year.

With the early adoption, India has the power to leverage the 5G dividend, and become the leader in innovation. However, it would require huge spends on the initial investment to stay ahead of the curve. It’s great that the Indian government has already started inviting global telecom operators to start trials in the country.

Focus on MPUs, nanosensor design

Now, let’s try another angle. For instance, how are indigenous microprocessors and nanosensor design R&D going to be encouraged? 5G has the potential to engender an entirely new supplier ecosystem for optical/wireless infrastructure equipment, software, chips, handsets. The Indian Government should formulate suitable incentives to encourage microprocessors and nanosensor R&D. According to Roy, in the initial years, this may be achieved by encouraging fabless semiconductor companies in India to design indigenous 5G chipsets manufactured through state-of-the-art global foundries, like TSMC.

Elias Aravantinos noted that the IoT ecosystem, new smart devices and sensors of the 5G ecosystem, moving forward, should encourage the microprocessors and nanosensor design. India already has 15 startups in the 5G space, including Mymo, which works in the area of 5G chipsets, and Signalchip, which is into 5G new radio (NR) modems.

Rajan S. Mathews agreed that India has major strengths in design. We need to leverage this by setting up a design centre to help designers obtain IPR/copyright, plus assistance, in commercializing their designs. We need to focus on chip design in the context of the emerging technologies.

He said: “Indigenization of technology is imperative for India. The Government should encourage indigenous microprocessors and nano-sensor design RD, and also make it mandatory. The Government, to start with, can provide funds and necessary know-how to R&D establishments to encourage such a transition. It must be noted that, while deploying 5G, it is important to not have the software and hardware from the same vendor.”

New business ecosystems to emerge

Yet another area to look at are the new business ecosystems that are likely to emerge, with the advent of 5G. As per Arnob Roy, it has been estimated that 5G can have a cumulative economic impact of ~$1 trillion on India’s economy spanning multiple industries, such as manufacturing, healthcare, education, agriculture, media and transportation. A few examples include: logistic delivery through drones, EV taxi aggregators with remote driving capability, new AR/VR/XR gaming industry, precision agriculture, high-speed fixed wireless access making last-mile road digging redundant, mobile industrial robots, etc.

Digital smart ecosystems and transformation will be the foundation for new 5G-driven business models, allowing digital and IoT innovators to build interconnected, scalable, service-oriented platforms capable of bringing together “things,” data, mobile apps and business systems and processes. 5G is the underlying technology, providing mobile broadband as piece of a whole that includes big data, IoT and new cloud technologies, felt Elias Aravantinos.

Rajan S. Mathews added that 5G will revolutionize business ecosystems and open up several new ones. Analysts have found that by 2026, there will be an estimated USD $619 billion dollar revenue potential for the operators addressing 10 specific industries with 5G — manufacturing, energy and utilities, public safety, healthcare, public transport, automotive, media and entertainment, financial services, retail and agriculture.

He said: “New business ecosystems will need to understand the emerging supply chains required by new network designs and configuration, applications, sensors, suppliers, etc. Integration of global supply chains will be imperative. Supply chains that reduce ‘carbon footprint’ will emerge as a new imperative.”

Agarwal at STL said that 5G will connect the world. Everything will be connected to everyone! With 5G, it will be possible to establish secure connectivity options among smartphones and other devices, such as vehicles, sensors, drones and robots.

This potentially opens up several new ecosystems, while changing the landscape of major industries. From warehousing and manufacturing, to healthcare and agriculture, every industry will see new horizons.

With a high output and low latency, it will take a fraction of a second to move data from one point on a network to another. While 4G comes with 50 milliseconds of latency, 5G takes only 1 millisecond. This dramatic decrease will make several use-cases possible, bringing revolutionary changes, such as remote surgeries, autonomous cars and faster manufacturing processes.

In that case, opportunities will also open for the start-ups and smaller ecosystem players. 5G will introduce a greater degree of openness and virtualization of the RAN (radio access network), compared to the previous mobile network generations. In 5G, the traditional base station will be disaggregated and split into independent radio and baseband (BBU) units that communicate through open interfaces. Moreover, complex network functions of the BBU unit will be virtualized and realized as software “apps” in cloud servers. Arnob Roy said that since the 5G network elements will be considerably simpler in design and functionality, it will unleash massive opportunities for Indian technology companies and startups that are strong in hardware design and software to gain entry into the 5G supplier landscape.

Elias Aravantinos noted that areas like AI, IoT, and AR will allow smaller players to contribute or partner with big companies. Advanced services like remote surgery, autonomous vehicles, and smart connected cities should be some areas where startups can see business opportunities to arise. India has already 15 startups in the 5G space, including Mymo, which works in the area of 5G chipsets, and Signalchip, which is into 5G new radio (NR) modems.

5G, once commercialised, will impact the start-ups and smaller ecosystem players to a huge extent. Enhanced connectivity and increased digitalisation of services will also contribute significantly toward facilitating an inclusive society, felt Rajan S. Mathews.

Many new entrepreneurs, with no prior business or entrepreneurship skills, are becoming successful micro-business owners. This is possible as there is basic availability and initiative for their empowerment and development. With the advent of 5G, many such entrepreneurs will get easy access to vocational skills training or business idea expansion opportunities. Telecom and connectivity holds great promise.

5G is not just about faster data speeds and faster connectivity. Network technology inevitably revolves around the unique use cases, especially in the Indian context. Technologies, such as, autonomous driverless cars, smart transportation and logistics, smart farming, drone patrolling for road safety, holograms and remote robotic healthcare, etc., would eventually enter into our ecosystem and become the order of the day.

The ICT industry in India is vigorously collaborating and pooling in resources to give an impetus to 5G and other innovations, such as IoT, M2M, AI, among others.

Security for 5G

Security will remain a key area in the upcoming 5G world. It will be similar for India. Talking about the approach towards security for 5G, Arnob Roy said that India should have a robust security strategy in place, whereby, we have a fully indigenous ecosystem created that covers every device or network used in the end-to-end 5G network.

5G networks in India should not be permitted to use equipment from untrusted sources (including from countries with which India has been at war in the past), regardless of commercial implications. India must identify and nurture ‘national champions’ in critical technology segments pertaining to 5G and give them long-term support through R&D funding, assured business in defence/civil applications, and active export promotion schemes. In the backdrop of recent geo-political developments, where telecom network security has become an important issue globally, India can step-up and become a leading ‘neutral’ (non-US and non-China) provider of world-class telecom equipment for international markets.

Elias Aravantinos felt it would be best using certified products and trusted suppliers that have been already tested in the 4G era for their security solutions, and have been already trusted by others around the world.

3GPP is playing a pivotal role in defining the telecom security standards with the aid of their SA3 (Service & System Aspects) Workgroup. SA WG3 is responsible for security and privacy in 3GPP systems, determining the security and privacy requirements, and specifying the security architectures and protocols. The WG also ensures the availability of cryptographic algorithms which need to be part of the specifications.

Rajan S. Mathews said that while security and privacy features that existed in the earlier generations are also present in the 5G future generations, SA3 works to ensure that these features are built into the system design for each new generation introduced. The development and rollout of any generation requires a global supply chain, wherein, all the equipment and software, irrespective of their origin, must have these in-built security capabilities, which are in line with the standards laid down by the SA3 workgroup at 3GPP.

Governments, TSPs, academia and stakeholders from around the world are working closely with SA3 by submitting proposals pertaining to security, which in turn, are deliberated and evaluated by the workgroup. Once accepted, these are brought into standards. These standards are designed to make telecom networks safer and to ensure that the next generation network offers more protections around subscriber identity, safeguards the interconnections between different carrier networks and better encryption methods.

We also need to keep a watch on the new Data Protection Act, as this will help define critical data and information that will need to be “secured”.

Boosting manufacturing with 5G and Industry 4.0

Here comes another major point: manufacturing! Specifically, how can India look to boost manufacturing using 5G?

Ankit Agarwal, CEO, Connectivity Solutions Business, STL, said that by using 5G technology, the manufacturing industry will be able to automate several processes to improve operational efficiency. It will have a huge impact on revenues and productivity. Automation will lead to lower cost of production. Though the manufacturing sector supports 16% of the country’s GDP, with the introduction of 5G, it will increase several times.

“With 5G, manufacturers will be able to collect massive amounts of real-time supply chain data, enabling deep, data-backed planning for demand. Smart factories will leverage the IoT, while augmented reality will be key for troubleshooting. Additionally, 5G will be utilized for better tracking of goods, remote inspections of factories and efficient management of logistics,” he noted.

Arnob Roy said that the Government can use 5G network implementations in India, as a leverage to create a vibrant domestic telecom product ecosystem. It will not only help reduce our import bill for telecom equipment, but provide a sustainable and long-term solution to address the security risks and protect our critical infrastructure. The GoI must encourage domestic design-led equipment, software as well as fabless-semiconductor companies, to create all the key building blocks required in a 5G network.

He added: “The Government should mandate that all government-funded critical 5G infrastructure (including those of USOF) must be built using designed-and-made-in-India products only. They should also incentivize service providers in the form of license fee discount, when they deploy Indian products. As a part of 5G licenses, the Government should ensure that global patents are licensed to Indian companies on FRANDS (fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory) terms. All the IPR created in India is pooled as a national asset, to be utilized by any Indian design-led manufacturing company, which is doing significant value addition in India.”

According to Elias Aravantinos, 5G could be the catalyst to digital revolution in India, in a combination with the industrial IoT and AI revolution. In that regard, 5G can boost the innovative business models with many new intermediaries on connectivity, service differentiation, content, and applications entering the telco value chain.

He clarified: “The Industry 4.0 evolution could help boost mining, agriculture, and also, manufacturing and transport. 5G-powered smart factories are expected to leverage the benefits of the IoT and automation. They should even use augmented reality for troubleshooting. The Indian Government has launched a “Make In India” initiative to promote India as a manufacturing hub. Nokia already manufactures 5G radio equipment in India, with cutting-edge technologies.”

The Industry 4.0 will see factories replete with sensors and connected devices, each monitoring different aspects of the working environment. There will be many connected tools, making use of information, ranging from location to accelerometer data, to understand where and how they are being used, in order to guide workers accordingly.

Rajan S. Mathews said that 5G’s high capacity, wireless flexibility and low-latency performance make it a perfect choice to support manufacturers in such environments. It promises to help them meet several challenges. 5G is poised to enable manufacturers drive more functionality closer to the network edge.

Given that the network technology’s reliability is so high and its latency so low, the equipment can communicate wirelessly with back-end systems for time-critical operations in ways that were impossible earlier. 5G will combine fast production-line operations with the power of networked intelligence.

New capabilities are also expected to emerge, such as advanced visual recognition, using the power of deep learning neural networks in the cloud. This will allow robotic systems to visually inspect products for quality control purposes in real time, and with a heightened degree of accuracy.

Connecting manufacturers and suppliers

Given the possibilities, it is clear that 5G will enable the manufacturers get connected with the suppliers.

STL’s Agarwal observed that a 5G-driven factory will be equipped with thousands of sensors to send a continuous stream of data over cloud networks. Similarly, wireless transmitters will ensure superior signal penetration and coverage. Such a robust ecosystem will help factory managers increase speed, monitor quality and respond to supply chain queries/workflows/fluctuations with ease.

He said: “In a 5G-driven factory, devices from multiple stages of production, supply and logistics will be able to communicate simultaneously. It will allow systems to prevent defects, detect quality issues, increase safety and manage supply chain efficiently, directly improving connections with suppliers.”

5G will also enable smart factories that provide full transparency into real-time production operations spanning all assets and manufacturing processes. As the global supply chain becomes increasingly interconnected, countries like India that have a strong base of educated and skilled labor force can leverage the power and flexibility of 5G to emerge as a global manufacturing powerhouse in multiple industrial sectors.

It is by 5G-powered smart factories with cutting-edge technologies processes. 5G-enabled smart factories will streamline the manufacturing process even further, as they will unify the entire supply chain into one single unit. The first waves of the industrial revolution were powered by steam, people, and later, silicon and software. The fourth wave will be driven by the network.

What changes will 5G bring to the world? Consider a world where, not just people, but, all things are connected. From doctors to medical devices of patients; augmented reality to shoppers; cars to roads; and almost anything else to everything else! It requires an exponential increase in the standard of connectivity. That’s what 5G will bring to the world of technology.

5G will also make billions of connections possible, making them instantaneous and secure. From automobile to healthcare and logistics to manufacturing, 5G will impact every major industry around the world. Imagine smart cars, autonomous vehicles, ultra-fast internet and a huge network of IoT (Internet of Things). Undoubtedly, 5G will be the catalyst to develop a more connected and smarter world.

Telehealth services and XR

The areas of telehealth services and extended reality (XR) are also due for a boost from 5G. According to Arnob Roy, 5G will support ultra-reliable low latency communications (uRLLC), which will enable several advanced applications that can bridge the growing urban-rural divide in the delivery of healthcare services. “5G will allow underserved areas, such as rural hospitals and primary health centers, to have access to similar quality of healthcare services as their urban counterparts, which are remotely delivered by skilled doctors and nurses working out of cities. Besides simpler telehealth consultations, uRLLC will allow more complicated remote surgical operations possible over a 5G link.”

Elias Aravantinos added that XR (VR/AR/MR) will benefit from the introduction of 5G and AI. 5G connectivity should provide a reliable and low latency link, delivering high-quality content to the device. High-speed 5G connectivity and processing power will be able to deliver the XR experience, but also telehealth, with better and immersive content.

Also, 5G technology could enable health IoT networks to operate in a stable and highly reliable way collecting patient data even remotely via wearables or other sensors and connected devices. Finallywith 5G infrastructure, it will be much easier and reliable to use AI software analyzing real-time patient data sent to cloud platforms.

Rajan S. Mathews noted that the URLLC aspect of 5G can fundamentally change healthcare in more ways than one. There will be a lot of improvements in domains such as telemedicine, remote recovery and physical therapy via AR, precision surgery, and even remote surgery over the coming years.

With 5G at the pivot, hospitals can develop massive sensor networks to monitor patients, physicians can prescribe smart medicines to track compliance, and insurers can even examine subscribers to determine suitable treatments and processes.

Technologies such as XR will benefit hugely from the introduction of 5G and AI. The present generation of XR devices requires either a smartphone or a powerful PC to deliver some form of immersive experiences.

Pradeep Chakraborty