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Published on: Oct. 9, 2022, 1:02 p.m.
5G roll out: Dawn of a new era
  • The IMC event offered a peek into the future

By Ritwik Sinha. Consulting Editor, Business India

For those who have been hooked on to India Mobile Congress (IMC) since its inception in 2017, the recently concluded 6th edition simply meant addition of more grandeur to it. Billed as one of the leading telecom exhibitions in the world, reflecting the rapid-fire churnings in the world’s second largest telecom market in volume terms, the show this time reassumed the physical format after a gap of three years and had many elements which probably made it bigger and better.

As usual the presence of the chiefs of three top telcos (who also share intense rivalry) on the stage turned out to be a great photo op for lensmen and those present during the inauguration. But the defining element this time was the initiation of the 5G era which warranted the presence of the prime minister himself who attended it for the first time (he had earlier attended the virtual summit in 2020). “The country’s telecom industry is giving an amazing gift to 130 crore Indians in the form of 5G. 5G brings the dawn of a new era to the country, it is the beginning of immense opportunities for the country,” Modi said.

For over 1.05 lakh visitors who attended the 4-day show, the event simply meant a peek into the future. People thronging different booths (239 stalls in total) were greeted with demo of diverse technological functionalities vis-à-vis metaverse, AR/VR, cloud gaming, blockchain and AI, big data analytics, etc. which are expected to become usual components of general life in the not-so-distant future. With 4G support, they have already arrived in a basic form but with 5G intervention, they will go to the next level. 

The new age solutions vis-à-vis healthcare, transportation, agriculture, power, education and industry 4.0 benchmark were equally appealing adding to the wow factor of the show. The show as an observer said, “marks the beginning of act one on the grand 5G stage” and, therefore, has triggered speculations and curiosity in the minds of consumers across the value chain including business and industries pertaining to various dimensions of 5G rollout.

Quantum leap 

The show at Pragati Maidan had an interesting element in terms of stall positioning. Close to the main entrance point, the expansive booths of Reliance Jio and Airtel – the two major players – were positioned facing each other. In fact, these were the two of the most crowded booths in the exhibition as visitors were keen to understand and even get firsthand experience of what the flagbearers of Indian telecom industry will be offering to them under their emerging portfolio of 5G services. 

The fierce rivals have taken the lead in setting the 5G stage with the preliminary rollouts on a select basis. Airtel 5G service has been rolled out in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Siliguri, Nagpur and Varanasi. Reliance Jio’s True 5G Service, announced at the IMC, became a reality on Dusshera day with the commencement of beta trial in four cities -- Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, and Varanasi. And now off the block, both of them are promising fast rollout on a larger basis. 

“5G network has expanded very fast in countries like Australia, the Philippines and Thailand. And I am expecting a similar trend in India where consumers have developed a big appetite for digital services. Plus all kinds of industries can leverage on it for making their systems and operations more efficient,” says Nunzio Mirtillo, Head of Market Area South East Asia, Oceania and India, Ericsson.

“5G service is now available in 70 countries, South Korea was the first to launch it in 2019 and penetration levels are 60 per cent,” points out Sudarshan Banerjee, former CEO, Hutchison Essar.

  • Reliance Jio’s True 5G Service was formally launched on Dusshera day

Network equipment major Ericsson, in its Mobility Report announced in June this year had made big-ticket projections for 5G growth globally. As per its forecast, 5G subscriptions across the world will cross 1 billion by 2022 end and rise to 4.4 billion by 2027. The 2027 timeline stated that 5G will account for: 90 per cent of subscriptions in North America, 82 per cent of subscriptions in Western Europe; 80 per cent in the Gulf Cooperation Council region; and 74 per cent in North East Asia. In India (the services had not started when the report was released), 5G was projected to account for 40 per cent of all subscriptions by 2027.

“In India, mobile broadband is the foundation on which the government’s Digital India initiative will be realized… While 4G contributes around 68 per cent of the total mobile subscriptions in India, its contribution is expected to drop to 55 per cent in 2027. 4G subscriptions are forecast to decline annually to an estimated 700 million subscriptions in 2027 as subscribers migrate to 5G post introduction of 5G in India,” the report had maintained. 

The company earlier had commissioned another survey (to research consultancy firm Omdia) which was India specific and it had strongly underlined that “Indian enterprises want to start using 5G within the next 12 months. A further 31 per cent expect to use 5G by 2024.” 

On the occasion of recently held IMC, consultancy firm KPMG released a fresh report which has emphasised on the massive economic opportunities the switchover to 5G will bring in. “5G will be a catalyst to India’s path of reaching 20 per cent digital GDP (by 2025). Today amongst others, digital transformation initiatives through smart factory, remote healthcare, digital school are real and functioning. With 5G, many of these initiatives will achieve scale and acceleration.

The Indian telecom market offers the right ingredients to have its justifiable impact. This impact could range upto 0.5 per cent of incremental GDP growth due to elements of flexibility, low latency and expansive connectivity, all of which will have a positive impact on businesses and its users (direct and indirect),” Yezdi Nagporewalla, CEO, KPMG in India said while summing up the main takeaways of the report. 

B2B to lead the drive

While the two of the major telcos have shown their intentions of rolling out 5G services at a national level by the end of the next year, as per industry buzz other leading players, Vodafone Idea and BSNL, are likely to divulge their rollout plans before the month end. And as 5G’s ambit expands all through 2023, the multiple benefits to individual as well as enterprise customers will increasingly become apparent. 

Experts and industry officials say, 5G at its best, will deliver multiple functionalities to common consumers ranging from something as basic as getting instant alert on your mobile to fill up necessary items in your refrigerator to finding a parking space while approaching a destination. It would result in accessing superior online educational modules and better healthcare record management. And when it comes to gaming and entertainment, it would simply unlock infinite choices.

  • With 5G, initiatives like ambulance services will gain scale and acceleration

When it comes to enterprise side, the scope is even higher in the critical areas like smart manufacturing, smart construction, smart city planning and management, safety and security, mobility, etc. “Safety and security are the major domains where 5G is expected to pick up quickly. In a 5G supported system, you would receive an alarm instantly at any sign of violation of basic protocols. It can even go to the extent of ensuring gender safety within a given working environment. If a female worker in any part of the establishment is alone, the system will tell you,” points out a senior official of Vodafone Idea. 

At the Vodafone Idea stall, the company was proving this point by beaming live from a metro tunnel in western Delhi which had proper technological checks and balances powered by 5G. “5G rollout will unlock the power of construction industry to revolutionise in years to come. Both dynamic and temporary in nature, construction sites tend to lack the ICT infrastructure needed to harness robotics and other digital technologies. But 5G networks may transform all of that. By enabling contractors to automate important on-site processes, 5G-connected robots could help achieve a major leap forward in both safety and productivity,” says, Vikramjiet Roy, Managing Director, Maccaferri (India). 

Agriculture is another area where applications built on 5G are expected to make a major difference. Some of the telcos present at the event emphasised on the multiple benefits the application has delivered to farmers and other stakeholders in the value chain in their test runs linked with agrarian businesses which they are calling ‘smart agriculture.’

The applications helped (as they claimed to have witnessed during the trial) in optimal utilization of farm inputs due to more scientific assessment of soil condition, weather condition and other critical factors that goes to the extent of finding right market linkage for the end produce. 

According to Sudarshan Banerjee, like other markets, 5G will make inroads with enterprises in India too. “5G is a game changer in segments like retail, supply chain through adaptation of AI (Artificial Intelligence), IoT (Internet of Things) and ML (Machine Learning). 5G service will be more adaptive in B2B segment than B2C except, a very small percentage of users for movies and sports,” he opines. 

Other churnings 

In the last couple of years, many speculative theories have been doing the rounds pertaining to the pricing dimension of a full-fledged 5G service to different set of customers. Considering the staggering investments which telcos and other stakeholders will have to bear in rolling out 5G, a popular theory has been it will at least cost 5x of the existing arpu (average monthly revenue per user charges) level in the country which is currently close to Rs160.

However, the players who have now rolled out 5G on a selective basis haven’t declared any tariff plan. The 4G chips used by their existing subscribers can be broadly used to access new generation services in the pockets where it has been rolled provided the device is also compatible to 5G.

  • 5G aided ‘Smart Agriculture’ will make a big difference to the sector

Analysts feel it would take a while before a tariff plan evolves as the rollout in the initial year would be mostly in beta or experimental phase wherein telcos would like the customers to get used to the new range of services. It could also be a trial and error spell for them as they learn to unleash infinite services and innovation built on 5G platform. In most of the countries where 5G has been rolled out, this has been the broader trend on the pricing front. “As far as I know, Canadian and US service providers are not charging any premium for 5G,” Banerjee says. 

The initiation and the subsequent evolution of 5G meanwhile is likely to push the hardware industry supporting telecom business in a serious upgradation mode. “For better results, you will need improved devices across the network as the 5G services take serious roots. Among other things, 5G will ensure M2M (machine to machine) connectivity coming of age and it may also need upgraded devices,” says a senior official of a leading telco. 

Hardware rejigs also include arrival of 5G compliant handsets in large volume. Incidentally around the time when IMC was happening at Delhi’s Pragati Maidan, the leading e-commerce firms were running their seasonal sales programme and this time a major attraction was new range of 5G handsets available in the price range of Rs15,000-Rs20,000. Indian handset manufacturer Lava went a step ahead and launched, what it claims to be, the country’s most affordable 5G smartphone ‘Blaze 5G’ at the event which has been priced around Rs10,000. 

“The product aligns with the larger vision of providing the next generation 5G technology to Indians at an affordable price point. With the launch of this smartphone we are making the power of 5G technology accessible to all,” Sunil Raina, President & Business Head, Lava International. And the marketmen are expecting a deluge of such offerings as 5G’s journey picks up momentum.

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