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5G is our only chance to grow

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New Delhi, May 6, 2021 –
Everyone talks of China overtaking the USA in GDP and 5G (in a digital world with multiplying 5G usages). Indians have always been ahead in the digital and mobile technologies, till of course, regulations and crony capitalism blocked growth. What is so special about 5G? Is it just a communication technology? 5G is the new global wireless standard after 1G to 4G networks, much faster and having lower latency, packing density etc.

5G enables a new kind of network that is designed to connect virtually everyone and everything together including machines, objects, and devices, both static and moving, and like everything in new technologies, evolving and changing fast. 4G Broadband earlier delivered deep web functionality to our latest technology Smartphones. 5G also requires new kind of regulation internalizing content and pricing regulation.

The US and other liberal democracies are falling behind China in the global 5G race. “I estimate that China is about 10 times ahead of us in the 5G space. This is a national emergency. The US needs to get the necessary bandwidth and funding to the telcos to get that built out, we may have already lost that one, that’s how dire the situation is,” Schmidt told CNN recently.

“If these technologies are built in China, for example, they are not necessarily going to follow our privacy rules or our ethics We have to be careful to win this battle,” Schmidt said, pointing to the Chinese government’s plan to lead the global market for AI by 2030. Indians have proved that they can move ahead very fast as they did both for liberalised 2G and 4G networks.

China’s 5G networks are among the most advanced in the world, unless India is enabled to challenge them like the US did that to China, post 1980. According to CCS Insights, China will account for more than half of all 5G users by 2022. China is also expected to dominate through 2025, at which time it might represent 40 percent of global 5G connections, according to the GSMA.

Mainland China is already the world’s largest Smartphone market, and it also boasts the largest 4G market, with 843.7 million 4G subscribers. Based on a 5G study published by the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology, China’s aggressive investments in 5G infrastructures will be key to the country’s status as the world’s largest 5G market soon, unless India challenges like it did for 2G and 4G.

We must also remember that seven Presidents after Nixon, helped China for political reasons. They might now help India and Japan in the peculiar political/geographical environment in Asia, where China can never collaborate with India or Japan.

China earlier grew with the help of stolen technologies from the US and the rest of the world. The US collaborated. It can no longer do so and hence China has invested hugely in R&D, and commercial use of new technologies- “David G. Goldman”.

The US, India and some other countries flourished when they started operating on far better and fully digital 2G to 4G standards/technology and regulation (converged network and regulation). But there was a problem in some countries like India, where we could not migrate to a converged network/regulation due to the opposition of incumbent telecom operators, and tried to inefficiently operate on Unified Access License in 2004, and later moving to case to case regulations for 4G networks.

The US and other liberal democracies are falling behind China in the global 5G race. “I estimate that China is about 10 times ahead of us in the 5G space. This is a national emergency. The US needs to get the necessary bandwidth and funding to the telcos to get that built out, we may have already lost that one, that’s how dire the situation is,” Schmidt told CNN recently.

“If these technologies are built in China, for example, they are not necessarily going to follow our privacy rules or our ethics We have to be careful to win this battle,” Schmidt said, pointing to the Chinese government’s plan to lead the global market for AI by 2030.

China’s 5G networks are among the most advanced in the world. According to CCS Insights, China will account for more than half of all 5G users by 2022. China is also expected to dominate through 2025, at which time it might represent 40 percent of global 5G connections, according to the GSMA.

Late, late 5G in India: GOI is looking at issues around high prices of spectrum and its limited availability/usage. We faced similar problems for 2G/3G in 2004, but were carefully dealt with in new unified access regulations, license fee and connectivity charges.

In its report titled ‘Making India 5G Ready’ in August, 2018 Inter-Ministerial High Level Forum for 5G (Paulraj Committee)’, India anticipated the start of 5G in 2020. Based on the Report, the Government is creating an enabling framework for development of 5G services in India.

Progress is slow as many new developments have taken place and the 5G services are expected to be introduced gradually and advance to a full range of services as ecosystem and demand for services grows. Indian IT technologists are far ahead of those in the world.

5G can unleash new economic opportunities and societal benefits giving it the potential for being a transformational force for Indian society. It can help the country leapfrog the traditional barriers to development as well as advance the Digital India Mission. The cumulative economic impact of 5G on India can reach $1 trillion by 2035. But the progress in development in new services/usages is slow in India, and does not match with the high anticipated fee.

There are thus apprehensions that India is set to miss the 5G bus due to lack of preparedness, spectrum issues, inadequate use-case development, uncertainty around sale of radio waves for 5G, etc. Inadequate availability of spectrum, high spectrum prices, poor development of use cases, low status of fiberization, non-uniform RoW issues, deficient backhaul capacity, etc. are some of the factors coming in the way of rolling out of 5G services in India, missing the target dates in the Report.

Globally 118 operators in 59 countries have deployed 5G network, though only China and S. Korea has progressed to significant commercial operation. China has already developed more than 5 lakh 5G base stations covering around 7-8 per cent of their population.

Regarding status of deployment of 5G in India, 5G High Level Forum has given its report titled ‘Making India 5G Ready’ to the Government in August, 2018. 5G Hackathon had been organized and the Department have shortlisted 100 use cases for further development. Thirty out of 100 use cases will be demonstrated along with TSPs to learn 5G use cases and roll out challenges.

The current reserve price of spectrum is one of the highest in the world, which needs to be rationalized taking into account per capita income, extremely low usage, and reserve price benchmarks of other countries, 5G trial applications have been submitted by the TSPs in the month of January, 2020, however, till date the guidelines for trials have not been made clear and there is no set date for commencement of these trials. Specrum allocation is also posing to be a big problem.

We have four times more people and four times less spectrum which means that spectrum available to one person is 1/16th of the global average. Availability of 175 MHz only in 3300 MHz to 3600 MHz band will mean that approximately 50 MHz or so spectrum per operator could be allocated, which is far below the global average.

TRAI had recommended Rs.492 crore per MHz as reserved price for spectrum in 3300 MHz to 3600 MHz for 5G which is far higher than the auctioned spectrum price in other countries. Comparison of unit pricing of 5G spectrum with other countries indicates that it is 07 times costlier than UK, 14 times costlier than Australia, 35 times costlier than Spain and 70 times costlier than Austria.

Price recommended by TRAI is exorbitantly high and ranges from 3-70 times of the market determined price of the spectrum in other countries in absolute terms and is 16 times of the price in relative terms. They are of the view that there is a need to strike a balance between the Government’s expectation to generate revenue from the auction and growth of the sector and the overarching impact of 5G across the sectors.

Fear of 5G deployments in China: Many reports overstate the extent of Chinese 5G deployment for several reasons. Chinese government’s push to “accelerate user migration to 5G through measures such as package upgrade offer, and credit purchases, etc.”

Service providers then start encouraging customers to upgrade to 5G subscriptions regardless of their actual need, use, or device. Some companies reduce 5G subscription prices so much they are even cheaper than staying on a 4G plan.

ITIF report suggests that by counting anyone on a 5G plan, even if they only have a 4G device connecting to 4G infrastructure, as a 5G subscriber, and measuring individual base stations instead of cell sites, China’s 5G stats paint a misleading picture. Consider that China Telecom and China Mobile (the two largest operators in China) reported 150 million “5G package customers” as of September 2020.

But according to China’s Academy for Information and Communications Technology, only 94 million 5G devices had been shipped for all of China during the same time frame, indicating a sizable gap between the number of “subscribers” and actual 5G users. The number of 5G-capable devices alone is impressive, and the competitive threat from China justifies a thoughtful policy response, but no one should be worked into a panic by goosed stats.

Slow and steady may win the race. India won the race in 2G growth after 2010 (Comparison with Chinese growth ever.) Whereas the United States is pursuing a gradual, economical deployment of 5G, the problems with China’s rushed 5G deployments are already starting to show.

One of Huawei’s own executives went so far as to call China’s 5G “fake, dumb and poor,” mostly due to poor integration with the 4G network. Another former official warned in a recent speech that China’s 5G push could become a failed investment.

While China is no doubt investing substantially in the expansion of its 5G network, including by pressuring its state-owned carriers to invest faster than the market demands, Chinese figures must be properly scrutinized when using them to make U.S./other country policy decisions.

National Strategy of 5G

5G, will be a key driver of our Nation’s prosperity and security in the new age economy towards which we are progressing fast. It will provide consumers, businesses, and governments with remarkably fast network connections that will enable tens of billions of new devices to harness the power of the Internet, transforming the way we live, work, learn, and communicate.

Whole of government and industry led approach should be launched for faster rollout with demonstrable use cases. Spectrum cost should be rationalized to remove the artificial cost barrier.

Indigenous and demonstrable use cases are the backbone of 5G because that will create the new economy.

Indian government has to finalise the list of industries where it needs to achieve indigenous technological innovations, and handhold them for a profitable start. (Agency)

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