5G: An Epochal Opportunity for India

By: Dr. Kumar N. Sivarajan (CTO, Tejas Networks and Member of Governing Council, TSDSI)

In spite of being the world’s largest carrier of Internet traffic exceeding 2 exabytes every month and boasting one of the world’s fastest growing telecom markets in the world, India has historically been a passive recipient of next-generation wireline and wireless technologies. In the absence of a strong ecosystem of domestic telecom product companies and limited participation in global telecom standards bodies such as ITU, IEEE, and 3GPP, our contribution to current generations of mobile technology standards (e.g., 2G, 3G, and 4G) has been negligible. However, the establishment of TSDSI (Telecom Standards Development Society of India) in 2014 marked an important turning point for the country’s telecom sector. 5G is now expected to be the first major international telecom standard where India will not only contribute to the patents and technologies underlying the standard but will also be a key commercial supplier of telecom hardware and software products in global 5G network rollouts.

As India’s first Telecom Standards Development Organization (SDO) recognized by the Department of Telecommunications, TSDSI is mandated to develop standards for telecom products and services that meet India-specific requirements while promoting indigenous R&D and manufacturing. In the last four years, TSDSI has grown from strength to strength and today has 54 members from the government, academia, and the industry.  Moreover, as an organizational partner of 3GPP and an associate member of ITU-T/ITU-R, India is now one among a select group of seven SDOs that are in a position to influence the formation of 5G standards and ensure that 5G specifications capture the unique requirements of our users.

Global Success at Niagara Falls and Cancun

India registered its first major success in the global telecom standards space when it proposed a new rural use case and evaluation configuration for 5G at Niagara Falls, Canada in June 2017. Subsequently, an interim candidate proposal for 5G Radio Interface Technology (RIT/SRIT) was accepted at an ITU-R meeting in Cancun, Mexico in July 2018. 5G standards envisage the creation of advanced mobile systems with an expanded range of capabilities to support diverse use cases and applications while minimizing energy consumption and spectrum utilization. TSDSI’s Low Mobility Large Cell (LMLC) proposal represents a significant advance in the area of 5G technology performance by ensuring a more comprehensive coverage and effective service delivery in Indian rural scenarios. Prior to TSDSI’s timely intervention, 5G requirements sought to evaluate technology performance in indoor, urban, and rural test environments that were more closely aligned to the needs and usage conditions of advanced telecom markets. India will have to submit its final proposal by June 2019 for inclusion in 5G standards.

Ongoing Contributions

Besides developing new solutions to exceed LMLC rural usage specifications, TSDSI is currently working on numerous technological enhancements that are likely to have a massive impact in democratizing 5G standards and making them suitable for both developed and developing countries. This includes development of advanced antenna systems, control signaling, and mobility management protocols, and novel solutions to achieve superior reach and performance efficiency. Besides contributing to technologies for enhanced mobile broadband for rural areas, TSDSI’s ongoing work in 5G also covers other aspects such as radio enhancements and use cases for IoT (Internet of Things), cost-optimizations for radio access, backhaul and core architecture as well as standards to support Indian languages on 5G mobile handsets.

5G Networks—Ripe for Disruption

Another important element in the evolving 5G architecture that bodes well for new entrants is a higher degree of openness and virtualization of the RAN (Radio Access Network) compared to previous mobile network generations. In 5G, the traditional “integrated” base station will be disaggregated and separated into independent radio and baseband (BBU) units that communicate through open interfaces. Moreover, complex network functions of the BBU unit will be “virtualized” or decoupled from the hardware equipment and realized as software “apps” in cloud servers. These architectural enhancements will enable telecom operators to procure radio and BBU equipment from different vendors and, thus, enable greater flexibility in their 5G rollouts. Moreover, since the radio and BBU devices will be considerably simpler in design and functionality than 2G/3G/4G base stations, it opens the doors for small, innovative startups to gain entry into the 5G supplier landscape through specialization and feature differentiation.

Taken together, 5G will unleash massive opportunities for Indian technology companies that are strong in hardware design and embedded software to challenge the large telecom equipment vendors who have dominated the global telecom market by supplying proprietary and tightly-coupled hardware-software systems.

Conclusion

With the impending arrival of 5G, India is on the threshold of a pivotal moment in history when we can assume global technology leadership in a large and growing telecom sector. India is playing an active role in defining the requirements and technologies to be included in the 5G standard through TSDSI and ensuring that both Indian and emerging market needs are fully incorporated in these standards. 5G networks will have a more open and virtualized architecture, which will offer opportunities for domestic R&D and IPR-driven companies to create innovative products and become significant players in all future telecom network ecosystems. Carpe diem!

 

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