Several markets have gone live with commercial launches of 5G networks since early 2019. With the proposed commercial launch of 5G pushed to 2022, India has lost the advantage of being an early adopter of the technology.
However, India is not lagging behind in 5G ecosystem development efforts with continued focus on technology and solution development that would serve as accelerators for ramping up impending roll outs when the time comes.
Successful deployment of 5G requires development of the sustainable ecosystem encompassing favourable regulation and policy environment, spectrum availability, flexible and modular network architecture to deliver services.
5G spectrum availability is key for the telecom service providers to plan on investments, build out 5G network infrastructure as well as to test how the technology will work in real world. Frequency bands of 3300 to 3400 MHz and 3425 to 3600 MHz bands have been recommended for 5G in India. The government had initially planned for 5G spectrum auctions in second quarter of 2020. However, financial turmoil in the telecom sector and the Covid-19 pandemic has delayed the auctions to the next year.
The spectrum availability notwithstanding, service providers in India, gear manufacturers, software providers as well as system integrators have forged partnerships for 5G technology and solution development, conducting field test/trials as well as upgrade their existing infrastructure to make it ready for the transition to 5G.
Unlike the previous generations of mobile technologies, which were more defined by their hardware, 5G networks are software oriented. Service providers are using virtualisation to relocate the network functions in the proprietary gear of original equipment manufacturers.
Open Radio Access Network (ORAN) is one such initiative to define and build 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G radio access network solutions based on general-purpose vendor neutral hardware, open interfaces and software. ORAN publishes a set of specifications for open interfaces between virtualised network elements built on white-box hardware, allowing ORAN compliant components to interoperate with those from other manufacturers.
Leveraging on ORAN, telcos’ 5G infrastructure can be separated into multiple parts and each part can come from a different vendor reducing reliance on large original equipment manufacturers thereby enabling smaller players to enter the market.
India’s developed and mature software development capabilities have led to rise of many players who are focused on development of indigenous 5G solutions including open and virtualised RAN, network optimisation and monitoring solutions, converged solutions with AI, ML, IOT and analytics, etc.
5G networks and cross-sector use cases are expected to transform industries across manufacturing, transportation, logistics amongst other. 5G enabled networks would connect machines and production systems; leveraging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Internet of Things (IOT), Augmented Reality (AR) to enhance automation, flexibility, precision and efficiency. In more mature markets, large manufacturers, automakers, etc. are developing their own 5G private networks in coordination with telecommunication gear manufacturers to bring the 5G use case.
While the larger players would eventually replicate these use cases in India, the advent of home-grown solution providers and indigenous solutions would serve as a better fit for SMEs.
Both cost and customisation benefits for the SMEs would accelerate the deployment of fully scalable, wireless 5G networks where factories, production systems, machines, logistics centres will be connected and operate in tandem. This wave of 5G deployment will allow businesses across sectors to truly reap the benefits of 5G, IOT and industrial application use cases.
Even prior to the recent announcement on completely indigenous end-to-end 5G solution developed by one of the telcom service providers, several of the tech firms in the country have built 5G expertise and are providing 5G hardware and software solutions to several players globally.
These solutions can only be put to test once the 5G networks are commercially launched in India, however, the rise of home-grown technology and solution providers would enhance the uptake of 5G and deployment of use cases amongst enterprises across sectors in India.
The writer is Partner, Deloitte India