LAUNCHING 5G services that promise ultra high-speed internet on cellphones, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday said this is “a knock on the doors of a new era” and the “beginning of an infinite sky of opportunities”.
“New India will not remain a mere consumer of technology, but will play an active role in the development and implementation of that technology,” he said, adding that 5G technology will revamp the entire architecture of the internet.
Among the three major telecom operators, Bharti Airtel immediately rolled out 5G services in eight cities including Delhi, Mumbai, Varanasi and Bengaluru, and said the rest of the country would get it by March 2024. Reliance Jio is set to launch 5G in metro cities by Diwali this year, and in the rest of the country by 2023-end. Vodafone Idea has not announced a timeline yet.
Addressing the event, Modi urged telecom industry associations to launch awareness campaigns in rural areas on how 5G services can improve their lives. Terming the launch of 5G services as a success of the government’s Digital India initiative, he said the programme is based on four key pillars: cost of device, digital connectivity, data cost and a digital-first approach.
The initiative has had a significant impact in rural areas, he said. “Today, whether it’s small businessmen or local artisans, Digital India has provided everyone with a platform,” he said.
“From just 100 gram panchayats with optical fibre connectivity, we now have over 170 thousand panchayats connected with optical fibre… I’ve seen even the poor of the country always come forward to adopt new technologies… Technology has become democratic in its truest sense,” said Modi.
He said the utility of 5G is not limited to facilitating day-to-day activities, but it is a force that changes life altogether. “We should use the launch of 5G services for the unprecedented growth and economic development of the country,” he said. “Today, India is the world’s fifth largest economy. This provides an opportunity for our entrepreneurs, innovators, and for every citizen to become part of this journey towards a New India,” he said.
Speaking to The Indian Express on the sidelines of the launch event, Union Minister of Communications Ashwini Vaishnaw said that under the first phase of the rollout, the government has shortlisted 200 cities and towns where it aims to launch 5G services in the next six months. “We should be able to cover 80-90 per cent of the country in the next two years,” he said. Asked about tariffs of 5G plans by telecom companies, he said “India will continue to remain an affordable country”.
At its peak, internet speeds on 5G could touch 10 Gbps; it is 100 Mbps on 4G. Latency on 5G is expected to be under 1 ms (millisecond); it is 10-100 ms on 4G.
For consumers, 5G will provide superior internet speed and low latency. At its peak, internet speeds on 5G could touch 10 Gbps, compared to the 100 Mbps peak of 4G. Similarly, latency under 4G is between 10-100 ms (millisecond), whereas it is expected to be under 1 ms on 5G. Latency is the time it takes for a device to send packets of data and get a response.
According to government estimates, the cumulative economic impact of 5G is expected to touch $450 billion by 2035.
India’s biggest ever spectrum auction ended last month, with bids upwards of Rs 1.5 lakh crore coming in after seven days of bidding spread over 40 rounds, belying initial expectations that the auction process would be wrapped up in under three days. A total of 51.2 GHz of spectrum was sold, of the total 72 GHz that was up for grabs – close to 71 per cent.
Reliance Jio, which was the top spender at this year’s 5G spectrum auctions, bidding over Rs 88,000 crore, said in August that it will roll out high-speed mobile internet services on its 5G network by Diwali in metro cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata. By December 2023, Jio 5G will be available across the country, Reliance Industries’ chairman Mukesh Ambani had said earlier.
Jio has opted for a standalone 5G architecture, which essentially means that its 5G network will operate with dedicated equipment, and run parallel to the existing 4G network.
Bharti Airtel, which has opted for a non-standalone 5G architecture, launched its 5G services in eight cities including Delhi, Mumbai, Varanasi and Bengaluru on Saturday. It had said earlier that 5G on its network will be available in other towns and key rural areas by March 2024. In the non-standalone architecture, operators can maximise the utilisation of their existing network infrastructure with relatively lower investment.
Sources aware of Airtel’s 5G rollout plans said the company has also readied 5G services over a standalone architecture, which will be available only for business-end use cases for now. “Currently, around 40 per cent 5G smartphones in India don’t support standalone 5G. Non-standalone architecture ensures that users with a simple 5G-enabled phone can experience the high speeds it promises,” said an executive aware about Airtel’s plans.
Vodafone Idea is yet to release a detailed plan about its 5G launch. However, on Saturday, Kumar Mangalam Birla, chairman of the Aditya Birla Group which is a promoter company of Vodafone Idea, said the operator will “soon” begin its 5G rollout journey.
After the launch, all three major telecom operators demonstrated one use case to show the potential of 5G technology in India.