Four days of intense bidding and India's leading telcos and other entities committed over $19 billion (roughly Rs. 1,50,460 crore) in the 5G auctions initiated by the government of India. A total 72 GHz of radio waves worth at least $54 billion (roughly Rs. 4,27,600 crore) had been on offer for sale in the world's second-largest telecom market. The excitement for 5G is palpable and comes at a time when both urban and rural are neck to neck when it comes to driving growth in internet users – at 351 million versus 341 million respectively. A recent report by IAMAI and data analytics firm Kantar has revealed that while rural internet penetration has increased to 37 percent in 2021, urban penetration has remained between 66 percent – 69 percent since 2019.
5G services are expected to be rolled out as early as September this year and there is both enterprise and consumer excitement around the rollout. Riding on the back of gigabit speeds – expected to be around 10x of current 4G speeds, 5G is expected to deliver enhanced user experience, as well as help create new business models and services, in addition to improving network performance, and reliability. 5G also comes at a time when satellite broadband is coming into its own – led by global brands such as OneWeb (owned by Intelsat and Bharti Airtel), Elon Musk's Starlink and Amazon's Project Kuiper and will provide competition to terrestrial networks especially in remote regions where terrestrial networks have operational challenges.
While the two technologies can complement each other (satellite broadband is used to provide backhaul services to terrestrial networks), the two will also compete with one another specific to providing high speed data services to enterprises and subsequently, even to individual households. While it stands to reason that 5G networks will benefit individual subscribers, it will also provide a plethora of connectivity options to enterprises as well – enabling them to offer a host of connected services to customers that was simply not possible with 4G networks earlier. Examples of this could be sectors linked to IoT networks, connected vehicles and traffic systems, or advanced mobile cloud gaming.
So, what makes 5G significantly superior to previous generation networks? As the fifth-generation cellular network, 5G can offer speeds that are up to 100x faster than that offered by previous generation 4G networks – this in turn will give rise to new opportunities for both individuals and enterprises. This ultra-fast connectivity combines with ultra-low latency and higher bandwidth and will help advance societies, transform industries and dramatically enhance day-to-day experiences.
5G's low latency and high bandwidth speeds offer improved support for real-time applications and data-rich mobile apps, thereby resulting in better overall UX.
While the 5G auctions have just happened in India, 2022 actually marks two years since 5G was launched. Elsewhere and in India as well, its transformative effects on communication and connectivity will only be felt when legacy 4G/LTE networks are completely done away with. The possibilities are endless – a world where cars never have accidents; a world where diabetic patients can use technology to monitor their health round-the-clock with real time interventions if needed; where smart homes, smart factories and even smart cities become the norm and not the exception – 5G can be the catalyst that enables all this and more.
A new development enabled by the government when auctioning 5G spectrum, which will have profound impact on private industry is the enablement of highly secure and private networks. These are networks that will be leveraged for use by a single operator and not for the public. It could be a manufacturing organisation, a logistics operator or an infrastructure company (such as an organisation that manages airports) or any other enterprise that has mission critical operations that require 24-7, always-on and reliable connectivity – where any bandwidth downtime is unacceptable. This is where a private network would be the ideal option to go with. While this isn't unique to 5G and can also be deployed leveraging 4G LTE and satellite broadband, 5G with its high latency, higher speeds and higher bandwidth will be more compatible and better suited for third party operations.
The area where 5G will be transformative is on the Internet of Things (IoT) domain. Though 4G/LTE is currently being used to support industry and consumer IoT applications, 5G has key advantages which cannot be matched by the earlier cellular technologies. The domain where it will be most applicable is meters, tracking devices and sensors that are currently the most widely used IoT devices. By 2022, Ericsson suggests that over 29 billion connected devices will be using 5G with 18 billion of these being IoT related.
As more people are coming online, devices are consuming more amount of data than ever, which has become the topmost issue for telecom operators as it crams the bands of the radio frequency spectrums. 5G will overcome this barrier through network slicing, which will allow operators to “slice” up resources wherein they will be able to share more idle resources and increase overall usage. Thus, operators will have better utilisation of their networks and would be able to handle more users and transfer more data simultaneously. Security, a primary concern for both carriers and businesses, is the other area where 5G will have an upper hand when compared to legacy networks. 5G architecture is designed to provide opportunities for better and more granular security capabilities on the carrier side. It addresses threats faced by 4G/3G/2G networks and its security architecture enables significant performance benefits and diversity of applications as it utilises network slicing, cloud-based resources, and virtualization. Another powerful impact 5G brings is that it is capable of protecting customer identity meaning that individual connections are better safeguarded from rogue devices that might try to capture phone calls by mimicking cell towers. Understanding these new security measures will be critical to ensuring businesses build better, more comprehensive and secure services.
Overall speaking, telecom operators and businesses are now better positioned to reap the benefits 5G brings that can improve mobile communications. The long-term advantages of 5G will outweigh the disadvantages of 5G, and the technology is bound to introduce new opportunities for businesses to become more agile and competitive over time.
The author is the CEO, Realme India, VP, Realme, and President, Realme International Business Group.
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