How prepared is India for 5G connectivity?

5G will create a lot of opportunities for both consumers and enterprises. The adoption of 5G will happen gradually, and service providers are just starting to explore all the different use cases and services that the new technology brings. This also involves new ways of packaging services.

How has consumer behavior evolved with the introduction of 5G? How are operators adapting to cater to the 5G consumer’s needs?

Nitin Bansal, Head of Ericsson India and Head of Network Solutions, South-East Asia, tells us more. Excerpts from an interview:

V&D: How prepared is India for 5G connectivity? Have consumers shown interest for 5G?

Nitin Bansal: We believe India is ready for 5G and affordable 5G spectrum needs to be made available to the operators. Given the ‘long-term benefits’ that 5G technology will bring to India, it needs to be viewed as critical infrastructure and the foundation on which the Digital India vision can be realized.

From a technology readiness perspective, Ericsson is ready to roll out 5G in India having deployed it across 83+ live networks across the globe. The Ericsson Radio System hardware has been 5G-ready since 2015 enabling operators to upgrade to 5G with a remote software installation. As India gets ready to embark on its 5G journey, we are committed to working with our customers, partners, and the academic community to design and curate India-specific use-cases and to create the right ecosystem for 5G in India.

From a consumer perspective, there is a high interest for 5G in India and more importantly, they are willing to pay a premium for the new capabilities that 5G brings.

V&D: How did COVID-19 affect this preparedness?

Nitin Bansal: There has been considerable growth in data traffic globally and in India during the COVID-19 pandemic. An Ericsson Consumer Study (2020) revealed that the average time spent on mobile broadband increased by one hour globally on an average but in India, it went up by 2.2 hours per day. As opposed to the global trends where consumers are relying on fixed line networks, the Indian consumers are relying more on mobile broadband.

We believe COVID has really emphasized the need for connectivity and 5G underpins the need for accelerated and seamless experiences for consumers and enterprises both.

V&D:How did consumer behaviour change during and post COVID-19? How did operators handle the challenge?

Nitin Bansal: The pandemic outbreak and the lockdown restrictions have underscored the importance of resilient networks given the surge in data and voice traffic. This wave of data explosion has emerged as a significant trend as people all over the world including India are spending more time at home due to lockdowns and movement restrictions.

The dramatic changes in human behaviour patterns have caused measurable changes in the usage of both fixed and mobile networks worldwide. With more and more people working from home, traffic patterns on networks are witnessing unprecedented changes leading to traffic shift from downtown to residential and suburban areas.

As per the recent Ericsson Mobility Report, traffic growth in the country continues on an upward trajectory and India remains the region with the highest monthly usage per smartphone user in the world. In India, the rapid adoption of 4G combined with people working from home and their reliance on mobile networks to stay connected has contributed to the average traffic per smartphone user increasing from 13.5GB per month in 2019 to 15.7GB per month in 2020.

This added load on networks has led to network re-planning and end-to-end re-dimensioning activities focusing on network design, capacity, performance, and traffic handling, to ensure that customer experience from the network is not compromised. Leveraging AI/ML tools have allowed service providers to act on network bottlenecks and in eliminating incidents and failures. Service providers continue to make necessary changes to respond to the evolving situation with speed and agility as well as invest in the networks to boost capacity to be able to tackle the demand.

V&D: What are some 5G use cases for the India market?

Nitin Bansal: Enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) and fixed wireless access (FWA) are expected to be the early use-cases for5G in India. These will help address the concern of the limited fixed broadband penetration levels in India and improve the data experience while on the move.

The Consumer Lab study on ‘expectations from 5G’ states the Indian consumers expect 4K streaming and AR app usage to increase with the availability of 5G and are willing to pay a premium for 5G services. Over time, we expect more enterprise related use cases to come up leveraging the benefits of 5G in sectors like manufacturing, healthcare, education etc.

V&D: How is Ericsson supporting Indian operators in 5G deployments?

Nitin Bansal: Ericsson’s Radio System hardware has been 5G-ready since 2015 enabling operators to upgrade to 5G with a remote software installation. Along with our partners we have been working on 5G for several years in the labs and in advanced outdoor field trials. In India, we have been working with our operator partners as well as the academia community to test and develop various 5G use cases which are relevant for India.

To that effect, Ericsson and Qualcomm successfully collaborated at the India Mobile Congress (IMC) 2019 to showcase India’s first-ever live 5G video call using a 28 GHz spectrum. Ericsson took the lead at the India Mobile Congress 2019 to demonstrate the reliability, speed, and low latency of 5G through the Connected Music use case during the inauguration of the India Mobile Congress (IMC) 2019.

We work closely with all Indian operators and continue to engage with them on their network evolution plans. In 2020 Bharti Airtel extended its partnership with Ericsson for deployment of 5G-ready radio, 5G Core and transport solutions.

Ericsson’s global technology leadership has been reinforced with recognitions such as:

Frost & Sullivan’s latest Frost Radar™ ranked Ericsson highest in the 5G network infrastructure market leveraging its current leadership in 4G network infrastructure market. The Frost Radar™ reveals the market position of companies in a particular industry using their Growth and Innovation scores as highlighted in the Frost Radar™ methodology.

Ericsson has been named a Leader in the 2021 Magic Quadrant for 5G Network Infrastructure for Communications Service Providers by independent IT research and advisory company, Gartner. End-to-end 5G network infrastructure vendors were evaluated on how they enable IT provider performance to be competitive, efficient and effective and to positively impact revenue, retention and reputation within Gartner’s view of the market.

V&D: What type of work is the company doing in Indiaaround 5G?

Nitin Bansal: India is currently the world’s second-largest telecommunications market and has continued to register strong growth over the years. With the strong data growth that the market is witnessing and the government’s focus on digitalization, India remains a priority market for us. We have been in India for over 100 years and have been a partner in the evolution of telecommunication services in the country whether it is 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G in the near future.

Ericsson became the first company to manufacture telecom equipment in India in 1994. Most of the hardware deployed in the Indian customers’ networks is being ‘Made in India’ and exported to countries in South East Asia. As indicated earlier, we are working with our customers towards developing 5G use cases that are relevant for India.  

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