For 5G to happen, India needs to support start-ups and telecom equipment manufacturers through appropriate policies and funding.
By Dr. Debabrata Das
Technological advancements continue to create opportunities for society to develop solutions that can better the way we function. In the past, we have witnessed 2G, 3G and 4G wireless cellular network technologies that took the world by storm, and today, countries across the world are preparing to adapt to the next advancement in this space, the 5th generation of wireless communications. Today, in India, 4G offers a mobile broadband (MBB) system that provides a faster quality of video and voice calls. Hence, it’s important to ask what more can 5G bring to the service offerings and how will it make things made better with this technology.
Advancement to the 5th generation will bring with it improvements in the core services of wireless communications like the enhanced MOBILE BROADBAND (eMBB), Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC), and massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC).
Shifting from traditional communication ideals
Through the implementation of 5G in India, we could expect a big shift in paradigm from human-to-human communication to machine-to-machine communication. In fact, as an increasing number of devices start using internet of things (IoT) as part of industrialization, 5G services like the mMTC and URLLC would be crucial.
To quote a classic example, similar to how the introduction of browsers in the internet opened up avenues for businesses like Flipkart and Amazon, and even mobile banking applications that almost replaced traditional banking norms, we could very well expect 5G equipped with URLLC and mMTC to make way for ideas that have not been conceptualized before. With 5G, we could expect sectors like education, medical care, transportation, agriculture, FMCG and e-commerce to tremendously grow online, with more speed and newer possibilities to tap.
As far as new opportunities are concerned, 5G would boost the economy to perform and further innovate with faster and wider wireless communications. At the same time, it is also important for us to check if India is ready to embrace the use of the next generation of wireless communications.
Limitations in adapting to advancements
On an administerial level, India is acting fast on smart city projects that would primarily run on 5G, supported by the eMBB and mMTC services to start with; and in future, URLLC services. Consumers in India from rural regions to industrial and military spaces also show readiness to adapt to 5G with drones flying above agricultural fields and battlefields, to industrial automations that would run on mMTC. All these advancements and automations demand greater speed for better and reliable communication, for which strengthening the last mile connectivity is crucial.
The connectivity to 5G happens in the last mile of the base station network, which is the wireless part. The base station is surrounded by application servers on cloud computing systems to provide authentication and authorization to the devices connected. The optical network that connects these base stations has a very high bandwidth and this optical technology does not fall under the 5G standard. Thus, strengthening the last mile of connectivity is the real challenge we need to address when we speak of rolling out 5G wireless and core network technology in the country. In line with this, we need to enable better communications.
Overcoming challenges in implementation
The lack of a good number of highly skilled manpower to work on futuristic wireless communications technologies is another challenge in implementing 5G. With the onset of the 4G technology, the Indian academia and industries have aggressively started to conduct research around wireless communications technologies, to build sustainable human resources to implement wireless communications like 5G, and beyond.
For example, IIIT Bangalore has received grants from the Department of Science & Technology (DST), Government of India to conduct research on Advanced Communication Systems in 5G. We are currently working on an Open Radio Access Network (ORAN) technology for 5G base stations that focuses on medium access control and scheduling algorithms. Another major 5G R&D work carried out at IIITB is on the Massive Input and Massive Output (MIMO). Through this, we are preparing to work on the selection of antennas for particular user equipment in a 5G base station to enable better performance. For this purpose, our researchers are working on scheduling algorithms and machine learning to select and allocate antennas and receivers.
Embracing the leap of 5G
The ways to overcome the challenges lie in building highly skilled manpower and increasing the quality and quantity of talent from a few thousands to tens of thousands in the country. India will have to invest heavily in manpower and funding for research and system development activities to not only get us completely 5G ready, but also to create sustainable measures to adapt to future innovations and technological needs. On that note, the Indian standard body, Telecommunications Standards Development Society, India (TSDSI) has already presented indigenous research based 5G standard from India called 5Gi. In a historical move, the 5Gi is now being actively under consideration by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), to be a possible part of the 5G standard. 3GPP is a worldwide body that makes standards for wireless technologies like 3G, 4G and 5G.
As far as India is concerned, we have arrived in terms of equipment and intellectual readiness to embrace the 5G implementation. As we race ahead, we need to create encouraging atmospheres for start-ups and existing telecom equipment manufacturing companies in the country through appropriate funding, policies that boost technological advancements and creating talent that would make India the owner of intellectual properties in wireless communications and technologies beyond.
Dr. Das is Director Designate & Professor, IIIT Bangalore