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Where 5G rollout stands, and how it will change user experience

The three private telecom service providers, Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio Infocomm, and Vodafone Idea, have been working with telecom equipment makers such as Ericsson and Nokia, and conducting trials at test sites in these cities.

Written by Aashish Aryan , Pranav Mukul | New Delhi |
Updated: December 28, 2021 3:28:15 pm
One of the reasons why the bigger cities were chosen for these trials is their telecom services penetration, making it easier to convince more people to upgrade from 4G.

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) said on Monday that Gurugram, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chandigarh, Delhi, Jamnagar, Ahmadabad, Chennai, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Pune, and Gandhi Nagar would be among the first cities to get 5G services in 2022.

Why will these cities be among the first?

The three private telecom service providers, Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio Infocomm, and Vodafone Idea, have been working with telecom equipment makers such as Ericsson and Nokia, and conducting trials at test sites in these cities.

One of the reasons why the bigger cities were chosen for these trials is their telecom services penetration, making it easier to convince more people to upgrade from 4G.

Also, industry experts said, since the costs for 5G services are initially going to be on the higher side, it would be wise to test the service in areas where more consumers would find them affordable. A third reason is that cities provide all kinds of locations, such as walled complexes and open spaces, that are suitable for testing of various 5G bands.

What is 5G technology?

5G or fifth generation is the latest upgrade in long-term evolution (LTE) mobile broadband networks. It mainly works in three bands — low-, mid- and high-frequency — all of which have their uses as well as limitations.

While the low-band spectrum has shown great promise in terms of coverage, the maximum Internet speed is limited to 100 Mbps (megabits per second). This means that while telcos can use and install it for commercial cellphone users who may not have specific demands for very high speed Internet, the low-band spectrum may not be optimal for specialised needs of industries.

The mid-band spectrum offers higher speeds than low-band, but has limitations in terms of coverage area and penetration of signals. Telcos and companies that have taken the lead on 5G have indicated this band may be used by industries and specialised factory units for building captive networks.

High-band offers the highest speed among the three, but has extremely limited coverage and signal penetration strength. Speeds in this spectrum have been tested to be as high as 20 Gbps (gigabits per second), while in most cases, the maximum Internet data speed in 4G has been recorded at 1 Gbps.

Where does India stand in terms of trials and launch?

Although the government has said the auction of 5G spectrum would take place in March or April next year, some experts say it could be delayed by at least one quarter as telecom service providers are yet to complete their trials and test various aspects.

That said, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is in the final stages of stakeholder consultations, and is likely to submit its recommendations to the DoT early next year.

Bharti Airtel has conducted trials in partnership with Ericsson for mobile phones already in the market, Vi has conducted some for enterprise and business solutions, and Reliance Jio Infocomm has completed building its indigenous 5G network and is now conducting trials of connected drones, speed test and other aspects. In early 2019, Jio had said it had plans to launch an indigenously built 5G network as early as September 2020.

Are other countries and global companies ahead of India?

More than governments, global telecom companies have started building 5G networks and rolling them out to customers on a trial basis. In the US, companies such as AT&T, T-mobile, and Verizon have taken the lead. While some such as AT&T had started testing and deploying the technology as early as 2018, others such as Verizon have followed suit, expanding their 5G ultra-wide broadband services to 60 cities by the end of 2020. In China, some telcos such as China Unicom had started 5G trials in 2018, and have since rolled out the commercial services for users.

South Korean company Samsung, which had started researching on 5G technology way back in 2011, has taken the lead when it comes to building the hardware for 5G networks for several companies.

What changes for consumers?

One of the major changes will be in terms of rich experiences on their phones and other connected devices. For instance, users will be able to stream videos with multiple camera angles during sports matches or even play immersive video games using VR headsets or other accessories.

This next-generation telecom network will also enable a mesh of connected Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled devices and services with zero-fail rate, as in the case of connected cars. 5G could also spawn high-speed mobile broadband connectivity to replace existing broadband services, especially in locations where these services are constrained, provided there isn’t a huge price differential.

As far as commercial smartphones are concerned, some newer devices in the market claim to be 5G-ready. Equipment makers such as Ericsson believe that within 5 years, India will have 500 million 5G subscriptions.

Inputs from Nandagopal Rajan

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