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Making the digital leap, wirelessly via 5G

Dheeraj Toshniwal

This article was originally published in ET Telecom and has been reproduced here with permission.

In recent years, India has demonstrated what it means to leapfrog across key technology areas. The Digital India program has been driving connectivity, services and education to transform India into a digitally empowered society.

While COVID slowed development in several areas, it has ushered in an era of remote working, digital workplaces, and transition of many services to remote mode. And 5G, the latest generation of wireless technology, will accelerate the move towards digitization and automation.

Driving the digitization roadmap with new-age technology

The advantages of 5G are overwhelming. With its ultra-high-speed, ultra-low latency and ultra-high reliability, 5G holds the potential to revolutionize consumer services, improve industrial and infrastructure efficiency and enhance the overall quality of life.

  • Impact on consumer services: Imaging being able to download a two-hour movie in 3.6 seconds flat – 5G is truly super-fast. Beyond entertainment, it can bridge the infrastructure divide among societies. In healthcare for example, 5G connectivity supported by AR/VR/data science enables healthcare professionals to provide quality healthcare in remote areas. ‘Digital Schools’ can improve access to education, and video surveillance of large areas helps to enhance internal as well as external safety and security.
  • Impact on infrastructure and industries: In the coming years, self-driving vehicles will likely be an integral part of public transport and traffic management. With the help of connected devices and low latency connectivity, 5G will optimize the infrastructure utilization and improve industrial efficiency and safety. 5G can optimize the power grid utilization in real time by efficient management of the peak load. By enabling higher levels of automation, it provides better visibility across the supply chain to improve overall productivity levels. Similarly, its low latency benefits will improve health and safety especially in hazardous industries like oil and gas or in mining by increasing remote or robotic operations.
  • Impact on society: 5G has the potential to democratize innovation and improve the quality of life for people. By building a platform ecosystem, telcos can help reduce the cost of innovation and enable broad-based innovations across the country. 5G can help improve quality of life by enabling better e-governance, faster response to emergencies, and newer employment opportunities.

Charting the 5G roadmap in India – challenges and solutions

4G was launched in the US in 2010, but the ecosystem took time to develop and its real benefits were realised only post 2013. While 5G has more potential, it is realistic to assume that the widespread benefits of its rollout will have a lag of multiple years from launch.

5G-enabled phones or devices, 5G radio spectrum and network equipment are all par for the course in making 5G revolution a success. As the overall ecosystem for 5G remains undeveloped, both in terms of devices as well as applications, the government must focus on some key areas to realize its full benefits:

  • Policy, infrastructure and economics: The key challenges for 5G rollout in India are policy uncertainty around spectrum auction, multi-jurisdiction complexities in infrastructure setup and the current financial state of telecom operators. The government and telecom operators should work together to streamline the infrastructure setup and find mutually acceptable financial solutions to spectrum and infrastructure policy. The good news is that discussions on trial licenses have started, but we need to move faster to leverage the benefits of 5G sooner.
  • Enabling the 5G ecosystem: The real benefits of 5G will be delivered by innovations around it. Like 4G/LTE, these innovations will be driven by smaller agile players working alongside telecom operators and device manufacturers. Telecom operators can help transform the innovation landscape and their own businesses by incubating large solution ecosystems as a platform and by offering sector-specific solutions to industries.
  • Education to increase adoption: 5G information dissemination especially in semi-urban and non-urban areas is vital to expedite the process of its development. Any new technology roll-out increases the chances of fraud. Therefore, as and when we embark upon 5G, focused education campaigns on how to use the technology safely will help in its wider adoption.

5G is a breakthrough technology. From driving economic activities and job creation to running smart cities/homes to making the planet more sustainable, it has the potential to transform the world.

A disciplined and focused approach is required to realize the full potential of the technology for India. With the right convergence of policy and processes, 5G could well be the watershed in India’s digitization journey.