As part of its TLF Dialogue, Voice&Data is organizing a 3-series webinar to celebrate the 25 Years of Mobile Telephony in India.
While the special collector’s edition of the magazine released on 15 August captured the 25 years’ journey, Voice & Data organised a webinar, the first of the interactive series that focuses on the future. In addition to that, we, at Voice & Data, intend to deliberate on how the telecom sector, particularly the emerging new 5G technology, will drive social and economic transformation in the country.
As we are aware, telecommunication and mobile internet have played an important role in enabling India to continue working during the current pandemic. Experts point out that the remote working environment which got a major push during the crisis, is the new normal and it has started to change how businesses are done and the society operates.
The participants of the webinar were Dr. RS Sharma, Chairman, TRAI; Akhil Gupta, Chairman, Bharti Infratel & Vice-Chairman, Bharti Enterprise; Dr. Abhay Karandikar, Director, IIT Kanpur, Kamal Nath, CEO, Sify Technologies; and Dr. Anand Agarwal, Group CEO, STL.
Pradeep Gupta, Chairman, Cybermedia Group, was the moderator.
Opening the session, Pradeep Gupta invited Dr. RS Sharma to deliver the inaugural address.
Dr. RS Sharma, said that there is a need to have certain think tanks or thinking bodies, as someone who think in a strategic manner, and point out the direction that any technology should move, and things must happen. These are difficult times for our country. The entire world actually is, is affected by the pandemic. We have learned new ways of doing things, in a contactless, remote manner, in a virtual world.
It is also a time where we have realized the importance of connectivity of telecommunications infrastructure. Twenty years ago, if we were locked down, it would have cause psychological damage to a large population. While we are physically constrained, we are mentally very active and able to communicate. One thing which has also come out of this is the importance of the telecommunications infrastructure and the other sectors. For example, work from home. Today, the children are studying in this virtual world, and education is happening. Tele-medicine is also happening. People are afraid to visit hospitals as there may be more infections. Therefore, they are the ones who are getting medications, and medicine deliveries are taking place online.
The Prime Minister announced on 15th of August, the National Digital Health Mission. It will provide health services in a digital way, which means, having the digital health records, tele-consultation, delivery of medicines, online. All these things will create a robust infrastructure in the healthcare sector.
Other countries have created a digital identity infrastructure, which actually can prove your identity in a remote manner, anywhere, anytime, kind of paradigm, where you can easily get the services delivered. Today, identity benefit transfer is taking place for billions of people. Millions of people are doing credit transactions.
The Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojana is transmitting Rs. 500 to millions of people. Similarly, the LPG subsidy is going up Rs. 50-100 into millions of accounts every month. Because of the digital identity infrastructure, we are able to connect the recipient. Each individual is now a recipient to his or her bank account. We can just put in money and there is nothing in between. Money is the most tangible resource you can give it to somebody.
We have the digital identity infrastructure, where, we have been able to create a massive digital network of people’s bank accounts. We are able to use it to transfer money to these people. Interestingly, this month is also the 10th anniversary of the first Aadhaar card being issued. The first Aadhar was issued on Sept. 29, 2010 in a small district of Maharashtra. I was the Mission Director of that project. It was a moment of happiness for me to witness that.
The government of the day had adopted Aadhar. Many things are riding on it. Even in the telecom space, electronic KYC is being used to provide services to the people. Ration is being distributed using Aadhar authentication. More than a billion authentications are taking place. On digital payment, about 1.45 million transactions took place last month. There is contactless payment. You can go to the place and get the money. These are projects, which are quite consistent in these difficult times. These transactions are actually sustaining a lot of the heavy lifting being done by these applications.
You have health, payments, identity, distribution systems, etc. These are large projects riding on technology that are actually benefiting the people. We can solve our problems using technology. ICT has become extremely important. If you develop platforms and applications on top of these technologies, you can actually continue doing what you want to do, and achieve the so-called paperless, contactless and cashless government in this country.
It is ironical that Russia and USA do not have any system of digital identity, but a massive country like India has digital identity. It is able to deliver benefits to billions of people. We are really proud that we have done this.
With all these things to continue, and telecom becoming so important as a central platform for India’s digital delivery system, as well as growth trajectory, it is important that we invest in the future technologies. We should be able to sustain things, which are going to take this process forward. If we can somehow deploy technologies, which are robust, cheap, etc., which can solve India’s problems, we should be should not hesitate in doing that.
Views on 5G
People also have different views on 5G. Example, it is said that there are no use cases for 5G in India. This particular thinking is quite flawed! India always brings up some use cases, which are never there in the world! It’s also true that once you give technology to the Indian people, they are extremely good at adopting that technology.
Ravi Shankar Prasad always makes that point Indians actually figure out how do you actually use a technology. You gave us telephony. Indians figured out how to use missed call service. They made a missed call service where there was no need to pay anything.
5G is actually, not only relevant for India, it is also going to propel us into new ways of doing things. There are experts on spectrum and other standards. Airtel is in the area of creating infrastructure, representing fiber, etc. 5G as a technology is really a quantum jump in terms of capabilities, than 4G. It is actually a quantum jump in terms of high speed, hundreds of times data speeds, terabytes and other things. It has the quality of having a very low latency. Many real-time applications can ride on top of 5G. It has high throughput, and therefore, high data, high-speed machine to machine communications.
These attributes of 5G make it extremely suitable for multiple experiences. There is spectral efficiency, network efficiency, etc. It provides significant network performance improvement over the previous generations.
It is expected to also various services across industry verticals. The mobile industry has demonstrated its ability to transform society using 2G, 3G and 4G networks. 5G will build on the successes. It can enable new business models and use cases. There are many use cases of 5G.
Now, the basic goal of 5G is the boundless connectivity for all. That is one part of the innovation and network economics. The mobile industry will strive to have cost-effective quality networks, either independently or through sharing. 5G networks will rely on a combination of established and innovative technologies, and use licensed and unlicensed bands. It will revolutionize the mobile broadband experience, drive growth, and produce new use cases for massive, critical IoT.
5G will accelerate digital transformation of the industry. It will provide better user experiences. 5G will actually improve the mobile broadband services. A lot of work has to be done on connecting the towers. In addition to making smartphones better, 5G can usher in new, immersive experience such as AR and VR. There will be faster, more uniform, Internet, lower latency and lower cost. It can also be useful for mission-critical applications and communications. Critical nature of the data requires an accurate class of massive IoT.
Intelligent connectivity is also very important. The networks themselves will be able to self-configure, and provide intelligent connectivity. In our case, fixed wireless access, is an important area of enhancing the connectivity experience in the rural areas. Our latest recommendations relating the auction of spectrum. 25MHz should be used to identify applications for Industry 4.0.
What can be done in a limited geographical area of the industry? You can give the license for that particular area to the industry to use and leverage the power of 5G. Areas such as agriculture, manufacturing, I just spoke about, smart care, tele health, smart energy and utilities, smart cities smart education, etc. We are going to have multiple use cases of 5G for our country. We need to collaborate with the enabling environment for 5G. 5G can be used across multiple technology vertical sectors. We need to realize the full potential of 5G by having more supportive policy environment.
The Government has been cognizant of the fact. Government can also have an end-to-end 5G testbed to advance innovation and research, a three-year program that began in March 2018. With a project of two-part vertical cross program, and close collaboration between the university and public companies. The goal of the program is to have a technology broadly compliant with 3GPP standards.
The NASA digital communication policy explicitly talks about delivering high-speed IoT and machine-to-machine communication by 5G. The policy framework is in place to ensure that 5G comes in. Spectrum of guidelines for 5G trials have been issued. We have all the things in place.
There are only 30% of towers, which are connected to fiber. Guidelines have been issued. They have to percolate down to the state level, and districts have to understand the importance of these guidelines. We also need to promote the infrastructure sharing, active and passive. We have all the pieces in place. The government is ready to work with the stakeholders.
People also talk about who will make investments in 5G. Making investments is a business decision. There are no reasons why people will not invest money. There have been investments in the telecom space. Many other players are interested in making investments. They will happen when there is a regulatory certainty that there is deliberate push from the government.
From a technology angle, we need to bring in 5G. We need to take all the policy decisions and inputs, and have detailed implementation of 5G. Obviously, we have to create policies that are attractive enough for people to invest. I see a great future for 5G in India. I see also a great future of the overall ICT technologies. We have been able to build a huge amount of software and services on top of that. These things are going to play out much more aggressively.
In the next era of 5G, we will continue to build. In an article, I had said that we should go to protocol approach similar to what we have done on the Internet. It’s an open architecture. We need to adopt that in many verticals, like e-commerce. That will be an inclusive kind of protocol-based platform. Once that happens, India will have created another landmark and paradigm shift into these apps. We will be able to establish a great ecosystem.
Now, there is talk about domestic manufacturing. As a strategy, that is very important, and it will also happen. It has happened in the mobile handset space. It will happen in electronics manufacturing in general, and telecom equipment manufacturer in particular.
Focus on spectrum
Gupta thanked Dr. Sharma, adding that this was a comprehensive picture of the issues and the transformational impact. How it is going to affect the different kinds of verticals, the ecology required, the governance framework, etc.
He asked Akhil Gupta that the big elephant in the room is the spectrum. right. Dr. Sharma alluded to the spectrum and so on. Now, what are the industry’s expectations and do you think they are being met?
Akhil Gupta, Chairman, Bharti Infratel & Vice-Chairman, Bharti Enterprise, first, congratulated TRAI chairman for the 10th anniversary of Aadhar. It is among the biggest transformations that the country has seen over the last 25 years. There has been the IT revolution, the telecom revolution, etc. This is a feather in your cap that will always shine.
One point raised was about the use cases. The industry has always been saying that there are no use cases. You need a product on digital communication policy, and certain targets for penetration of Internet and broadband. There is a huge opportunity in front of us. The big impediment here is spectrum. The current recommended price for spectrum is considered too high. By way of NDCP, the revenue maximization is not the aim of the Government of India.
The aim is Internet penetration and broadband penetration. If that is the case, my only request is: let us walk the talk! Let us have more money in the network. The spectrum should be at very nominal costs. The quality of documentation is very high on price. If there is a massive demand, in any case, it will go up. If not, please provide the spectrum at a very reasonable price.
You can ensure that the proliferation of 5G is going across cities and towns, and rural areas, and set up with reasonable rollout obligations. If somebody doesn’t meet them, there are severe penalties. This is the time we go with what is in the NDCP. Revenue maximization is not the aim. Right now, the only impediment is the ugly introduction of 5G is the capital expenditure. This industry is not in a position to bear the burden of the spectrum and obtaining money from network. Spectrum should be at a nominal cost.
Looking at utility
Gupta next asked Dr. Anand Agarwal, Group CEO, STL, as to how does he look at the utility? Talking about use cases, which are fundamental and going to change things, would mean a rollout of infrastructure in a very different kind of a level than the existing infrastructure. The moment you go in for speed and access, you require much more infrastructure to be rolled out. What are your views on making 5G as a utility?
Dr. Anand Agarwal, STL, agreed with Dr. Sharma that 5G is going to cause quantum jump in terms of enabling us. We will be focused on extremely high efficiency, industrial applications, real-time education, healthcare applications, multiple peer-to-peer high bandwidth, low-latency applications, and M2M. These applications would be largely deployed in enterprises.
On the application side, whether it is application developer, platform provider and this great idea of Dr. Sharma to hosting application development, the customer facing front-ending agent, all that has to be extremely entrepreneurial and innovative. Those aspects must be backed by different enterprises, small and large, in terms of developing and providing. On the infrastructure side, where you require very high bandwidth, you would require edge storage computation that requires very deep fiberization!
That requires edge compute, and a lot of small cells, almost in a model similar to electricity distribution. 5G small cells would actually literally be deployed over a lot of street light hardware. All this infrastructure will be built for 5G or on any other digital requirement, like roads, power, etc. This infrastructure must be made once. The thought process there has to be an inner core infrastructure or process, and then, shared for multiple applications by the biggest service provider.
I am thinking about the utilitarian thing, not from a utility perspective, but from infrastructure created, and to be shared by multiple large stakeholders. That can be created by a private enterprise or public-private enterprise. The role of service provisioning, application development and infrastructure, government and public services is also important.
Challenges for rural areas
Gupta next asked Prof. Abhay Karandikar, Director, IIT Kanpur, what are the challenges for the rural areas?
Prof. Abhay Karandikar, said one challenge is the ubiquitous backhaul. The Government of India launched the BharatNet, by connecting all the Gram Panchayats. We have not reached the connectivity for the kind of infrastructure that Dr. Agarwal was talking. Of course, this can be addressed by wireless backhaul. TRAI has made recommendations on the E band.
Another problem is that in the rural areas we need fixed wireless access or low mobility. When the 5G use cases were drafted, the IMT-2020 was talking about the mobility of 500kms per hour. We really need high throughput, whether you are doing 40km in the city, or fixed. India did put this as a use case in IMT-2020 in form of low mobility-large cell (LMLC) scenario. It has been now adopted in IMT-2020. We also need large coverage in the rural areas. 5G works in various spectrum bands. It can be deployed in dense urban areas and rural areas.
Power of 5G
Gupta asked Kamal Nath, CEO, Sify Technologies, about the power of 5G. Kamal Nath, CEO, Sify Technologies, said that predominantly, we understand the power of 5G, which is faster speeds, lower latency and large data transfers. We can increase connectivity and more people will be able to communicate at the same time, without overloading the network. 5G base stations can take signals even for trains running at high speeds. You can have many devices per square kilometer. These things in common will trigger massive communications, the ultra-reliable low-latency communication abilities, which 5G has.
What does it translate to? Example, when we go about forming a data center and cloud provider, we are in the network space, there are large manufacturing organizations, who have to connect the sensors. From, where they need data, and they need to understand the performance of the other equipment and devices. Factories, such as the automobile industry, utilities, smart metering, etc., reliable connectivity is definitely an issue.
There is a good use case in the healthcare segment. The hospitals, or healthcare providers, they can be online. They can install anything. There can be remote monitoring and treatment of patients. I don’t think any sector will be left out.
Even the smart cities! A lot of projects are getting rolled out. Even there, the implementers are facing a lot of connectivity challenges. Even they are connected, but they are not getting the right speed. There are traffic lights, public-facing equipment, etc., that are need to build a smart city. With 5G, you can expect to create a smart home ecosystem. There is the vehicle tracking and vehicle transport management, as well. There will be hardly any sector which will be you know untouched by 5G.
Gupta told Dr. Sharma that he had heard the various views. Do we need a new slogan like Bijli, Paani, Sadak, and 5G.
Dr. RS Sharma said that slogans are for politicians. The ones who actually had slogans are extremely important as they mobilize public opinion. Nobody could have realized 5G would be so important. This is a platform where everything else would be riding. We need to have robust platform.
Connectivity should be used as a utility to help every citizen of this country. We need to provide all the incentives. We need to have a reasonable price for the spectrum. There is talk about the TRAI being anti-development. As an example, there were no takers for 700MHz spectrum.
Ultimately, the government has all the powers in the world. The government has actually reduced the prices, as suggested by TRAI. There should be a policy in place. We should have a slew of policies in place. We cannot afford to be left out. Manufacturing is also getting accelerated. This is a great opportunity for the country.
Gupta asked Dr. Anand Agarwal, STL as to whether there will be any PPP issues? Dr. Agarwal replied that 5G will require large spots of spectrum. There will be multiple small cell sites, etc. The core infrastructure can actually be built by any provider. With the active sharing happening, this model is already frozen. He felt that some kind of hybrid PPP models could be used in the Indian highways sector, for instance. On the one part, STL is focusing on and bringing it to the attention of the government that we must spend 1% of GDP on this infrastructure.
What sort of regulatory framework should be there? Akhil Gupta, Airtel, said that India already has a robust regulator. Perhaps, people can now put up an active infrastructure, a native infrastructure, which can be shared by all the operators. Some improvisation may be needed here. Overall, the regulatory framework is robust and working well.
Gupta next asked Prof. Karandikar regarding what should be done about the standards. Prof. Karandikar said that India has made the LMLC standard as the use case scenario of IMT-2020. 3GPP submitted a radio interface technology. We have requested some changes in the physical layer. That has been submitted to the IMT-2020 by the TSDSI.
Contributions to 3GPP and IEEE have started coming in. There should be more Indian IPRs and requirements into the standards. We are seeing an increasing use of the software in the networks. Most of the components are being built on off-the-shelf hardware. There is an excellent opportunity for us to leapfrog. We need to take our IPRs and develop products. This cycle has also considerably shortened.
Regarding security, what are the issues? Kamal Nath, Sify, said that for 5G, each technology generation is more secure than its predecessor. 5G will enable wider usage of cloud and virtualization. One the one hand, you have all the benefits. On the other hand, there are some security concerns. In the initial days of the cloud, a lot of our customers had security concerns. Providing security in the cloud is our responsibility.
When you move in and out of the cloud, it is the responsibility of the network service provider. The standards bodies will dictate the security in the 5G network. There would be embedded security features in the system. The network operators are responsible for the security of the network. Hackers are sometimes smarter than us. We need to be careful. Ultimately, the enterprises should be the beneficiaries. We should be responsible to ensure that reliable data gets in the network. We are also seeing the emergence of edge data centers.
Prof. Karandikar was asked to reflect on whether India has the capability to get over China. He said there is an increasing use of software of the 5G network. In the RF part, there is an opportunity for India to improve. Indian companies can make a lot of software and hardware. STL is among them. There is also a lot of opportunity to develop business products. We should seize this opportunity, so that India becomes one of the largest markets, apart from China. There is a big opportunity for the Indian industry to develop indigenous products.
Gupta asked Kamal Nath of Sify how does one go about building trust? Nath said that all of the bodies need to come together, and make an environment where there is the overall architecture and collaboration. Concerns can be addressed because once there is collective responsibility, the concepts will remain.
Reaching $5 trillion goal
Pradeep Gupta requested Dr. Anand Agarwal, STL about the steps India needs to take to reach the $5 trillion goal, which may now have shifted due to the pandemic. Can 5G accelerate that?
Dr. Agarwal said that we need to look at it from the demand side and the supply side. On the demand side, there are things like agricultural, industrial apps, etc. There are multiple use cases for 5G to improve efficiency across the entire value chain. On the supply side, 5G is very conducive for open source. There are radio units. India can take advantage of this.
There is also a great potential for creating localized networks for industrial applications. These networks can be built by local entrepreneurs. There will be multiple network creators and spectrum users, plus the hardware and software ecosystem. This is the right time for India to take the right decisions. All of this value creation can be done by India, for the $5 trillion economic goal. That will help India achieve the Aatmanirbhar Bharat goal.
Finally, Gupta requested Dr. RS Sharma to touch upon the three things that the industry in India needs to do. Dr. Sharma replied that commoditization had happened with computers. That transformed the entire industry! Hardware became the standard hardware. The entire Aadhar backend is done on hardware and open source that is proprietary.
Also, the industry must realize there are providers who have been providing the BSCs, towers, etc., so far. Sharing a part of the infrastructure is a better idea. Eg., sharing of towers is a good idea, and so is having fiber at the backend.
The whole application provisioning will be divided among the various players. That is the best outcome. The entire service-provisioning architecture must change. Unbundling of these layers is a good way forward. The 5G world is quite different from the other worlds. This is good for innovation also. There should be openness of the network, and sharing of the infrastructure, etc., that will transform the Indian economy.