Views of Dr P.D. Vaghela

“5G is designed for forward compatibility”

Dr P.D. VaghelaThe telecom sector is one of the fastest evolving sectors globally, with new technologies and advancements transforming the way people communicate. Earlier, telecom service providers only supported voice communication. Today, voice, data, multimedia, OTT, applications, e-commerce and a host of other applications are running on telecom networks. In India, telecom service providers are providing world-class services at the lowest rates possible, and the country is one of the largest consumers of mobile data in the world. Dr P.D. Vaghela, chairman, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), has spoken on several occasions about the role and relevance of telecom connectivity in the success of Digital India and the overall growth of the country. Edited excerpts from recent industry events…

5G as a game changer

5G is going to be a game changer as it will provide seamless coverage, high data rate, low latency at low rates, high density IoT applications and highly reliable communications for mission-critical applications. 5G also promises a range of new services to consumers and enterprises beyond the traditional voice and data, by enabling technologies like IoT, artificial intelligence, robotic process, automation, augmented reality, virtual reality and a host of new emerging applications. The new technologies are giving rise to new use cases such as smart cities, smart manufacturing, smart agriculture, remote medical consultations, industrial automation and interactive consumer entertainment across industry verticals. 5G will also increase energy efficiency, spectrum efficiency as well as network efficiency. Unlike existing mobile communication networks, 5G networks will allow the tailoring of requirements for each of these different use cases within the same network. These models are aimed at harnessing the power of technology to generate value for all stakeholders in the mix.

A defining capability of 5G is that it is designed for forward compatibility. This will support future services, putting them on an unprecedented growth trajectory. Thus, 5G will be used not only for the telecom sector, but for all other sectors as well. It will help in reducing the urban-rural digital gap.

5G is predicted to create a cumulative economic impact of $1 trillion in India by 2035. It is estimated that the 5G-enabled digitalisation revenue potential in India will be about $27 billion by 2026. To reap the benefits of 5G, the country’s policies, and licensing and regulatory environment need to evolve simultaneously.

The Department of Telecommunications and the Telecommunications Standards Development Society, India, in collaboration with the Indian Institutes of Technology, have been successful in getting acceptance for the low mobility large cell use case in the International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT)-2020 requirements. I hope this will help in enhancing 5G technology’s role in bridging the urban-rural divide in the country. TRAI is helping the government to prepare an ecosystem for the implementation and introduction of 5G in India.

PM-WANI to fuel rapid internet inclusion

Worldwide, public Wi-Fi has emerged as one of the most successful means of enhancing broadband proliferation among the masses. In India, too, public Wi-Fi can be seen as a low-cost option for reaching unserved citizens. The Prime Minister Wi-Fi Access Network Interface (PM-WANI) policy brings aspects of smooth roaming from one Wi-Fi access point to another, and thereby promotes the usage and growth of this broadband download facility. It is a giant step towards providing Wi-Fi ubiquity in India through the creation of 10 million Wi-Fi hotspots, as envisaged under the National Digital Communication Policy, 2018. This will not only help provide broadband to all, but will also create benefits such as direct and indirect employment opportunities for millions of small local entrepreneurs, as well as huge economic benefits with various broadband use cases. PM-WANI can fuel internet inclusion in rural areas, which will be transformative given the low level of penetration at present as compared to urban areas.

Wi-Fi linked to BharatNet fibre services can be the fastest route to bridging the digital divide. The government has decided to adopt the public-private partnership mode to commercialise the BharatNet infrastructure in order to benefit more people.

5G promises high speed and seamless connectivity. It represents a major step forward from the current connectivity options. However, in view of mobile spectrum availability and network infrastructure constraints, we need to have a complementary Wi-Fi framework, including public Wi-Fi, to provide a powerful mechanism for downloading data traffic to a device. Going forward, next-generation Wi-Fi6 will also reinforce the need for a robust public Wi-Fi network in the country. This will help deliver extremely high capacity, high speed and highly secure broadband services to consumers.

Wi-Fi6 and 5G will expand opportunities for digitalisation across industries. Their convergence will usher in a new era of wireless access and enable organisations to do business everywhere by increasing productivity and offering the best user experience. Wi-Fi7 is also waiting in the wings, ready to enter by 2024. It is likely to increase data download speeds to 30 Gbps and provide latencies of less than 1 millisecond. This would further complement 5G technology and improve the overall quality of service by taking care of significant high-value downloads.

That said, a key aspect of the growth of Wi-Fi hotspots is backhaul infrastructure to manage the growing Wi-Fi traffic. Since the deployment of fibre entails many challenges, wireless backhaul could be considered. The liberalisation of backhaul spectrum by opening up the E and V bands will have immense benefits. TRAI has already made recommendations in this regard to the government. It is also pertinent to consider the role that satellite communications can play in supporting Wi-Fi backhauling. TRAI has made suitable recommendations in this regard as well for facilitating the use of reset-based networks for backhauling both cellular and Wi-Fi networks.

Focus on infrastructure sharing

One way to work around the problem of right of way is greater sharing of infrastructure – not just passive infrastructure such as fibre, in addition to towers, etc., but also active infrastructure, which includes elements of the radiating layer such as antennas and base stations. This would help the telecom sector reduce its financial stress and rapidly deploy infrastructure, helping telcos and tower firms save significantly on capital expenditure. Currently, infrastructure providers can lay cables and get into fiberisation, which will help speed up the work of laying a fibre network, which is essential for 5G deployment.

TRAI has already submitted its suggestions on active infrastructure sharing to the telecom department, aimed at enhancing the scope of companies. TRAI has recommended that infrastructure providers that are allowed to own passive infrastructure should be permitted to establish and share active infrastructure elements as well. This move will be vital for the roll-out of 5G in the country.

Move towards Aatmanirbhar Bharat

To be self-reliant in the technology space, which is critical from an economic and statistical perspective, the country needs to transform from the consumer of technology to become a producer. To upgrade and expand technology development capabilities, investments need to be made in the complete ecosystem, including research, innovation, standardisation, product development, testing and certification. This requires a complete overhaul of the existing practices and policies. Further, industry-academia linkages need to be established.

To this end, commercial research innovations, standardisation and product development need to be incentivised. Such innovations must focus on meeting the needs of developing countries in the most effective manner. This will open up a huge market for such products in India. There is a need to push indigenous telecom products in the country amid the booming growth of mobile and fixed line broadband as well as the rise of Industry 4.0 and digital automation.

The way ahead

The internet is one of the most powerful engines of socio-economic growth. In India, as well as elsewhere in the world, wireless broadband is fuelling the growth of internet services. The Indian appetite for data services appears to be insatiable. Despite having over 700 million broadband connections, the potential for growth is still very high. I believe that over 500 million people still need to be connected, especially in rural areas. Thus, India needs all the technology channels to achieve its digital ambitions. Our technology-neutral policy will serve as the prime catalyst for achieving the vision of broadband for all and an inclusive Digital India.

To boost innovation in the digital sector, encouraging research and development in the fields of telecom and emerging technologies is crucial. Digital inclusiveness is very important so that all sections of society can reap the benefits of growth and development.

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