Underlining one of the less talked about impacts of India’s inordinate delay in taking a call on the rollout of 5G networks, Qualcomm India & SAARC president Rajen Vagadia says this will leave our startup ecosystem at a significant disadvantage.
In a video call from the US, Vagadia explained that there will be a dramatic change in the quality of products if India’s 9,000-odd tech startups had access to 5G networks. “You will see a dramatic change in what they deliver. So let’s assume we don’t do 5G for the next few years, these startups probably won’t experience what 5G could have given them, whether it was high bandwidth low latency or security. Hence, whatever they will develop will be developed on what they have, which is 4G,” warned Vagadia. San Diego-based Qualcomm is the largest mobile chipmaker in the world with a huge workforce in India as well.
Vagadia said that as a result the solutions developed by these startups will not be probably meant for the world, which has already moved to 5G. “And they will not be as efficient, or innovative, as they would have been if they would have designed it on 5G,” he explained, adding how this would mean Indian companies would have to play catch-up for long.
So is the pandemic the perfect time to switch on 5G in India? “Without the pandemic also 5G would be great. Let’s assume the pandemic was not there… the consumption (of data) wasn’t stopping and would have continued rising,” he said, adding how unfortunately in India the spectrum is not as much as we would really want. “In the 4G and 3G world, if you don’t have huge chunks of spectrum, that’s exactly when it gets loaded with technologies that keep optimising, but beyond a point, it does start showing up.”
Vagadia said that with the finite spectrum, the way to reform is to add more base stations. “Unfortunately you can’t perpetually increase the number of base stations. So, even if the pandemic was not there, trust me, 5G was something which was super super essential.”
However, he thinks the pandemic has complicated things further. “As the pandemic started, networks were throttling the OTT apps. That’s how we are saving. To use it somewhere you are cutting from somewhere else and managing it.” He said if work from home continues, 5G can enable technologies like virtual reality that will let users be in office virtually.
“Enhanced mobile broadband, or EMBB, was supposed to be one of the first deliverables of a 5G network followed by home broadband where you don’t need fibre for last-mile connectivity. Then there is low latency high security uses like robotics,” Vagadia explained, underling how 5G is different from earlier generational shifts in telecom and much more deeper, “almost like a fabric”. This also means most of the new use cases of a technology like this are being developed. “Most of the applications will develop after the technology is available.”
Vagadia, who has over two decades of experience in telecom, said the way 5G is designed, “it will have so much of an impact on every aspect of our life”. “That’s why it’s more sensible to start now than to wait. Because then we’ll be only implementing looking at somebody else and doing whatever they have done,” he added. “But a lot of our problems will be very unique,” he qualified, giving the example of village broadband where 5G will be able to solve the problem of last-mile connectivity without fibre.
“It’s time we become a leader rather than just trying to chase something… especially with so many startups, they get to get the advantage.”
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