In the remote backwoods of Andhra Pradesh, techies from Sweden’s Ericsson, the world’s largest telecom equipment maker, are using high-end sensors to track the flow of the river Godavari to optimally distribute water to farmers for agriculture and minimise floods. Another Ericsson team is deploying wireless sensor networks to reuse ammonia-rich waste water for cost-effective organic farming.
Finland’s Nokia, too, is beefing up its R&D facility in Bengaluru to develop new-age services such as Internet of Things (IoT) and deliver apps that can be relevant across India, especially those related to agriculture, healthcare, transportation and smart cities.
At the Mobile World Congress 2018 in Barcelona, Ericsson demonstrated two live IoT use-cases in a 5G environment, which it said, could be relevant for India.
Nitin Bansal, Ericsson’s head of network solutions for South East Asia, Oceania & India, said these cases are related to landslide disaster monitoring and farming. The first case shows how IoT networks with sensors can save lives through disaster monitoring and early warning systems, while the farming solution uses artificial intelligence to monitor temperature, humidity and CO2 levels to maintain greenhouse ventilation and ideal crop-growing conditions. These are examples of how 5G technology can be harnessed to transform the lives of farmers in India, the world’s second-largest telecom market.
5G or ‘fifth-generation’ is a fast, wireless broadband technology that will transcend smartphones and connect anything from cars, machines and home appliances at speeds 50-to-100 times faster than present 4G networks. It will offer lower lag times when transferring data. Developing India-specific use-cases would be key to the success of 5G in the country, given that the current batch of global apps such as driverless cars are ill-suited locally and more relevant to developed markets.
Globally, US carriers Verizon and AT&T are poised to start the first wave of commercial 5G launches later this year, which, in turn, will be followed by operators in Japan and South Korea in 2019. China, which finalised 5G spectrum band for trials almost a year ago, is slated to start pre-commercial 5G rollouts early next year.
The Indian government has set a rollout target for consumers by 2020, with the telecom department poised to unveil its 5G technology roadmap by June. The government has already committed budgetary support for a 5G technology test bed that will be anchored at the Indian Institute of Technology in Chennai.
However, India’s operators are strapped for cash and averse to an early 5G spectrum sale. They want the government to defer it till FY20 so that there is time for the device ecosystem to develop and the industry to overcome its financial stress and consolidate completely.
“Before auctioning 5G spectrum, key preparatory issues would need to be fixed over the next one year, including the setting up of 5G standards designed for India-specific usecases in areas such as agriculture, healthcare; the issue of international harmonisation of spectrum, and collaborations between telcos and network vendors/app developers to ensure optimal use of present 4G network elements in transition, before migrating to 5G,” said Rajan Mathews, director general of the Cellular Operators Association of India, which represents Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India, Idea Cellular and Reliance Jio Infocomm.
Ericsson’s Bansal said the Swedish company “has the technical capability to offer its 5G network solutions to Indian carriers by mid-2019 itself,” but pointed out that compatible spectrum would need to be available first for its equipment to work and, more importantly, the government and industry must agree on when 5G spectrum should be auctioned in India.
The Indian government has earmarked 5G airwaves in the 3300-3400 MHz and 3400-3600 MHz bands for the next spectrum auction and has sought pricing recommendations from the telecom regulator. True clarity on the 5G spectrum bands is likely to emerge only after the World Radio Council finalises 5G spectrum allocations in 2019, based on which the ecosystem for this next-gen wireless technology will develop.
Telcos, though, are revving up their pre-deployment strategies.
Vodafone India, which is merging with Idea Cellular to create the country’s biggest phone company, said it has already brought 5G principles into its 4G networks by deploying technology that boosts the capacity of a base station by as much as seven times and cuts interference significantly.
Designing networks with the best latency is its immediate priority. The latency of a mobile broadband network is a measure of the delay experienced when a customer’s computer tries to access an internet server. If a telco runs a low-latency network, internet speeds will be greater.
“In a 5G scenario, as you connect more and more machines and you get into a world of augmented reality and virtual reality, latency becomes very important,” said a Vodafone India spokesman.
Market leader Bharti Airtel plans to leverage its digital innovation lab in Bengaluru to ring in 5G use-cases. Last month, the Sunil Mittal-led telco and China’s Huawei ran India’s first 5G network trial under a test setup at Bharti’s network experience centre in Manesar, near Gurgaon.
Reliance Jio has launched its own pan-India narrowband IoT network in partnership with Samsung Networks. It is also said to be working with a string of technology partners to develop 5G usecases relevant for India, although Jio did not share details.
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