The much-anticipated 5G technology was officially announced in the country on October 1 by PM Narendra Modi, Indian consumers are now prepared to upgrade their digital experiences.
As 5G has now been officially launched in the nation and all the telcos are racing to make their 5G services available throughout the country at the earliest , Vinish Bawa, Head of Enterprise, Emerging Business and Webscale, Nokia India, spoke to Voice and Data around 5G ecosystem in India, Nokia India's role in it and much more.
Here are a few excerpts from the interaction:
- Do you feel India has created or is creating an acceptable 5G ecosystem to enable the effective and efficient implementation of 5G technology?
Vinish Bawa: Commercial 5G services were launched in India in Oct 2022. However, a robust and mature ecosystem will be the crucial for the successful and wider adoption of 5G in the country. Networks, devices and applications/ use case and users are the key components of the 5G ecosystem. To this point, the ecosystem build up is happening at a very fast pace.
5G services are already available across several cities as CSPs continue to expand their 5G networks at a war-footing with several thousand sites being implemented every week. Major private CSPs have announced plans to have a pan – India 5G presence by end of 2023 -early 2024.
Talking about 5G device ecosystem, nearly 10% of smartphones in India are already 5G-enabled as per market reports. Affordable 5G phone avg price range today starts at around 12k-13k INR and this will drop further as 5G penetration continues to expand.
In term of applications and use case, it is widely believed that 5G will be enabler of new applications and use case for a wide range of Verticals – from manufacturing, ports, mines to energy/utility, public safety, defense through to agriculture, education and medical health. Several start ups, academia and domain experts are collaborating to develop India specific applications and use cases.
Industry forecasts point to near 500 million 5G subscribers in next 4-5 years, that again points to a healthy update for 5G in India. So, all in all, we are getting closer towards building up a strong 5G ecosystem in the country and everyone is playing its part –the government, the CSPs, solution providers and other ecosystem partners.
- How is Nokia engaging with its partners on this front or contributing to the overall 5G ecosystem so far?
Vinish Bawa: Coming to Nokia’s role and contribution, we are already manufacturing 5G radio equipment in India at our Chennai factory. In fact, we were the first to manufacture the 5G New Radio in India. Almost 50% of radio equipment including 5G radios manufactured at our Chennai factory is exported to global markets. We are now ramping up our production to cater to the 5G radio demand for the domestic market as well. Our Global Delivery Centres in Chennai and Noida are already handling 5G network operations in several countries. We have the skilled work force ready to help our CSP partners scale up for 5G deployments. Our Banglaore R&D Centre, one of the 4 main R&D sites of Nokia globally, is collaborating with industry stakeholders incl CSPs, eco system partners and academia to develop 5G ecosystem and India specific 5G use cases.
To accelerate the pace of 5G rollouts, Nokia is offering is offering its award winning digital design and deployment platform. Nokia’s digital design platform creates a Digital twin of the network that can visualize ‘what if’ scenarios to design and optimize network performance end to end from RAN to Core before the actual physical implementation. Beyond the design aspect, we are also offering 100 percent digital deployment capabilities to the CSPs for a faster, more sustainable, and higher quality 5G network deployment process.
Lastly, to support and accelerate 5G skill set building, we are offering a 5G certification program in association with NIIT + COAI for organization and individuals.
- What were the key technology business trends that according to you continue to shape the post-Covid world?
Vinish Bawa: The pandemic brought the spotlight on the need for digitalization across every segment, especially enterprises, where telecom is one of the key enablers. In the absence of a robust digital infrastructure, the enterprise sectors (labour intensive) were not prepared to deal with the pandemic. Most organisations at the time, lacked the systems and infrastructure needed to assure the continuity of the business. The worldwide supply chain disruptions touched practically every industry segment, highlighting the importance of ensuring a secure supply chain management system in case of contingencies. All businesses, be it CSPs or telecom vendors or enterprises, all need to adopt advanced technologies, including AI/ML and automation to plan and manage their assets and be able to estimate service demand and requirements of their customers and maintain business continuity against any such untoward situation.
Businesses and enterprises have witnessed a major portion of their customer interactions getting digital in nature post pandemic. People adopted the "zero touch" approach, which resulted in most of the business transactions becoming digital and gave rise to a range of new services for the consumers. For example, we have already clocked about 70 billion digital payment transactions in 2022, the highest in the world. On an average India has also been registering 280 million digital transactions a day. 5G will further boost the digital economy and the volume of digital transactions in India
- How has the Indian telecom technology landscape evolved in 2022? What were some of the key business highlights for Nokia?
Vinish Bawa: Starting with data consumption, with CAGR of 31% in the last five years, mobile data consumption reached to current 17GB per user per month as per Nokia’s Mbit report 2022. India today ranks among the world’s biggest data consumers while Mobile broadband subscribers increased from 345mn to 765mn in five years. Another key highlight of the report is the contribution on 4G in total mobile data traffic that stood at 99% across all circle categories.
On the device side, as mentioned earlier, nearly 10% of smartphones in India are already 5G-enabled as per market reports while 5G was launched just a month ago in Oct 2022. India has also evolved as one of the top 4 5G smartphone markets in the world.
5G is now being deployed in the country leveraging both the flavours of 5G – Stand alone and non-stand alone.
Talking about the key business highlights for India- the recent 5G deal announcements with R JIO and Bharti are the biggest highlights. Overall, we have closed about 100+ deals this year, including the 5G radio deals along with transport and 5G core deals. We have also got business on the fixed broadband side where we are very well placed as we are No. 1 in fixed broadband in India. There is a big contribution in the 100+ deals coming from internet service providers (ISPs), multi-service operators, enterprises and web-scalers.
- How long do you think will 5G technology take to make the leap, considering all the physical obstacles including greater reach, fibre, and financial feasibility for both service providers and users?
Vinish Bawa: Yes, there are some areas of concern that may have an impact of the pace of 5G expansion and adoption across the country. For example, currently only around 30% -33% of telecom towers in India are connected with fiber. The traffic per site is expected to grow 3 to 4 times or more once 5G is introduced and the backhaul would have to scaled up accordingly.
To this point, E band microwave solution comes across as viable option for the CSPs to evolve their backhaul networks for the 5G era – it is scalable in bandwidth, easy to deploy and offers fiber-like performance. We had achieved 9.85 Gbps backhaul speed in our 5G trials with a leading CSP in India. Meanwhile, Government is also making a strong push for fiberization and digital infrastructure build up across the country and has already taken several measures to speed up the fiber network expansion.
Coming to 5G reach and availability, as mentioned before, major private CSPs have announced plans to have a pan – India 5G presence by end of 2023 -early 2024. To this effect, we
Offer 100 percent digital design and deployment capabilities to the CSPs for a faster, more sustainable, and higher quality 5G network deployment process.
Site acquisition is also a key factor in 5G roll out. in order to facilitate faster site acquisition, various programs and initiatives taken by the government (eg Enhancement of Scope of Infrastructure Providers and Right of Way) will help in ensuring easy access of high speed, affordable and reliable 5G connectivity.
Further, to improve the financial health of the telecom sector and reduce the financial burden on the CSPs, the Union Cabinet had announced wide-sweeping telecoms reform package in September 2021. The key objective was to bring in the much-needed investments into the sector and boost employment, growth, competition, and consumer interests. These measures will help in making 5G services widely available and at an affordable price point for the vast majority of consumers.
- Do you think partnering with trusted telecom Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) as needed by recent Indian regulations has posed a challenge?
Vinish Bawa: We believe that the government of India has every right has every right to take necessary measures to safeguard the mobile networks against any potential security threat. To this effect, the government has made it mandatory for the CSPs to network equipment from trusted vendors. This decision is not without basis. Several countries in North America and Europe have already been following similar mandates to safeguard their mobile networks. There are certain challenges (for example, the number of labs needed to test and certify the equipment for use need to be increased) that the government is looking at, in consultation with the stake holders.
Network security is a matter of nation interest and is absolutely non-negotiable – we have achieved the trusted source approval by National Cyber Security Coordinator (NCSC) – that qualifies us as a trusted supplier for 5G deployment in India.
- Going forward, how do you see Indian telecom networks transform to become future ready? What will be the key opportunities and challenges?
Vinish Bawa: There is a total agreement across industry that 5G is not just a technology advancement over 4G, it will also lay the foundation of a digitally connected society. Use of advance network technologies like network slicing, Fixed wireless access to name a few will help make the businesses more productive, safer and sustainable; and break the digital divide and provide access to quality broadband connectivity for everyone. Networks are evolving from customized hardware-based networks to cloud native networks to have the resiliency, cost efficiency, high degree of automation to be able to onboard new use cases and applications at speed and leverage the full potential of 5G. Technologies like edge cloud infrastructure, private networks, augmented intelligence, automation, sensing and robotics, as well as platform and as-a-service business models will become more prevalent as networks continue to evolve and transform.
Businesses and enterprises need to transform as well, offer new services to improve customer experience and increase their revenues. But in order to realize this transformation, they must improve their delivery capability. They need to automate the workloads to drive efficiency – they need to go digital and adopt advanced technologies
However, to achieve this, we need to have a robust digital infrastructure and there we have some challenges that we covered in the earlier questions. Further, there is a need to create the awareness on the need for digital transformation while helping the organizations in developing their transformation strategy at the same time.
- The rapid march-of new-age technologies has triggered a talent demand but at the same time with every new technology the supply –demand gap of skilled manpower is increasing. How in your view should the Telecom industry be dealing with this gap?
Vinish Bawa: It is a fact that with every new generation of technology, there is a need to upskill and reskill the workforce. As the 5G roll out continues at a breakneck speed, it also highlights the need for developing skill-sets required to maintain those networks. Nokia, as mentioned earlier, is already running a 5G certification program for organizations and individuals, that imparts skills and knowledge needed to strategically plan for the use of 5G to create industry value and professional growth. We are open to partnering with organizations to impart trainings and make their work force ready for the 5G era.
This trend is not limited to just the telecom industry. Technology, customer expectations, and businesses will continue to evolve – this means that businesses and enterprises need to be agile and adaptive to change in order to sustain and survive. Upskilling and reskilling of the employees to emerging business needs will not only increase their productivity but can also make their increase loyalty, satisfaction, and engagement. Government of India is also running a lot of programs (for example Skill India, Digital India) that include skill assessment and training with aim to transform India into a digitally ready and digitally empowered society.