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In an effort to prepare its officers for the impending roll-out of the fifth-generation of mobile telephony, or 5G, in the country, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is planning to send its officers to China for a training course on 5G communications system and internet of things (IoT) in October. This training course is being organised by Thailand-based intergovernmental organisation Asia-Pacific Telecommunity, which operates in conjunction with telecom service providers, manufacturers of communications equipment, and research and development (R&D) organisations. In its letter to the DoT last week, the Asia-Pacific Telecommunity invited the Indian government to nominate qualified applicants to attend the 10-day training course by August 30. While the organiser would bear the expenses for one full-time or two part-time fellowships, it said that additional nominations could be made as long as their expenses are borne.
“This project is for the purpose of promoting our country and the Asia-Pacific region to exchange and cooperate in ‘Development Reviews and Application Prospects of New Communication Network Technology’. Participants will understand the basic characteristics of 4G/5G and technology trends, network security protection methods, best practice of the Smart City and the IoT,” the Asia-Pacific Telecommunity said in its letter.
However, this is not the first step by the Centre to gear up for 5G services. Back in April, the DoT prepared a note to plan discussions with key stakeholders in an effort to bring them on the same page for establishing a national 5G framework programme, which aims at deploying the latest technology in the country by 2020. The DoT has also firmed up plans to begin testing of 5G technology soon, for which it is likely to seek funds from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITy). The ministry is allocated a sum in the Union Budget for a fund that is used for R&D activities in the field of information technology (IT), technology, and convergence communication & broadband technology projects. For 2017-18, the ministry was allocated only Rs 101 crore under the said fund.
The MEITy is also funding a collaborative research project on 5G, which is being undertaken by premier academic institutions across the country. The project, approved in September 2015, has an outlay of Rs 36.51 crore over a period of three years to be jointly implemented by IISc Bangalore, IIT Bombay, IIT Hyderabad, IIT Madras and CEWiT (Centre of Excellence in Wireless Technology, IIT Madras). Under the project, these institutes are expected to conduct advanced R&D solutions in various areas of 5G technologies. The research team is also expected to jointly develop advanced simulators and technology prototypes. The intellectual property rights developed in this project will be contributed for the 5G standardisation.
China, which also aims to commercialise 5G networks by 2020, is considered to be one of the countries at the forefront of R&D for the technology. In March, according to report by Chinese news agency Xinhua, the country had established a 5G test field aiming to standardise the mobile communication technology. Chinese technology firms such as Huawei Technologies and ZTE Corp were said to be participating in the test programmes, which were set between 2016 and 2018. After the first stage, which verified the feasibility of essential techniques, was completed, the second stage of tests had started. Various reports have also pegged that Chinese investment into 5G network infrastructure could be over $400 billion between 2020 and 2030, which would make it the country’s largest capital expenditure on a network roll-out till date.
Another step towards commercialisation of 5G telephony in India could happen soon as the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) is, later this month, likely to float a consultation paper on the next spectrum auction, which is expected to include the 3300-3400 MHz and 3400-3500 MHz frequencies. These bands are considered suitable for deployment of both 4G as well as 5G mobile services. While India is planning to begin the process of standardising the latest wireless technology, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has already proposed key performance requirements for fifth-generation mobile technology. Even though the data speeds for 5G cannot be ascertained, as the technology is yet to be deployed, ITU in February proposed the downlink peak rate for 5G at 20 gigabits (or 20,000 megabits) per second. Peak data rate is the maximum achievable data rate under ideal conditions. Comparatively, the existing fourth generation technology or LTE-Advanced, offers peak rates up to one gigabit per second in fixed speeds and 100 megabits per second to mobile users.
Furthermore, Indian telecom companies, which are currently in the midst of a 4G battle, have also made early moves towards 5G. At the Mobile World Congress 2017 in Barcelona that was held in February, Reliance Jio partnered with Samsung to work on a project that would look at upgrading the mobile operator’s infrastructure going ahead. Apart from this, India’s largest telecom company Bharti Airtel, and state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd have also started working with Nokia Networks to “accelerate the development of a 5G ecosystem”.