Everything You Need to Know About 5G Technology

5G is a term you will hear quite frequently in the coming months. What exactly is 5G and how does it work? We’ve simplified that for you.

5G refers to the fifth-generation cellular network technology that provides broadband access. Unlike its predecessors, 5G is a software defined network operating largely off the cloud. With higher data speeds, lower latency and the promise of massive device connectivity, 5G paves the way for next-generation applications such as autonomous vehicles, smart homes and cities, and massive machine-to-machine communications for industries.

For mobile users, it spells out faster Internet access, more video calls and better network quality.

How Is 5G Different From 4G?

On paper, 5G should be faster, with higher data speeds and lower latency.

Data Speed: At a theoretical maximum speed, 4G tops out at 100 Mbps, while maximum speed on 5G is 10 Gbps. This makes 5G about 100x faster than the current 4G technology.

In perspective, a two-hour movie that takes 6 minutes to download on 4G will take about 3.6 seconds on 5G.

Lower Latency: Latency is the time it takes for data to move from one point to another over a network. Where 4G had a latency of 50 milliseconds, 5G offers a minimum latency of 1 millisecond. This is 400 times faster than the literal blink of the eye!

Where Can 5G Be Used?

Each generation of cellular technology has brought with it an expansion of activities one can do via the internet. The jump from 3G to 4G enabled users to not only browse social media & video stream from their phones, but also order food and hail cabs from their devices thanks to faster network speeds. Where 5G is different from previous generations of cellular technology is that its application goes far beyond mobile phone devices.

"“Simply put, 5G means that the network will be ready for millions of devices and not just the smartphone in your hand.”" - Bhaskar Ramamurthi, Centre of Excellence in Wireless Technology, IIT Madras

Here are some 5G features that will allow for a wide range of applications.

Massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC): 5G supports the interconnectivity between a very large number of devices. The high density of connectivity (around one million connections per square kilometre) means that 5G will usher in more use cases in Internet of Things (IoT). So much so that 5G has been dubbed the connective tissue of the Internet of Things.

Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB): 5G allows for high user mobility, especially under scenarios requiring high data rates across a wide coverage area or ultra-high speed connection.

Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC): Given that latency on a 5G network is as low as one millisecond and reliability in terms of packet loss is better than one in 10,000 packets, it enables the development of latency sensitive applications like remote surgery and autonomous vehicles.

Who Are The Key 5G Players?

On 3 June 2019, Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad announced that India would hold 5G spectrum auctions within the calendar year. However, the auction may be met with a muted response. Here’s why.

The Vodafone-Idea merger is expected to stay away from the auction as it focuses on integrating its networks & cutting operating costs and capital expenditure. Analysts preempt a record drop in customer numbers, sales and profit, and loss of dominance in revenue market share to Reliance Jio and Airtel.

Another reason for the muted response is that Indian operators who spent huge amounts on 4G spectrum and investment in 4G networks are still in the expansion stage. They are yet to reap the benefits of growing consumption of 4G mobile broadband services. Investment in 5G may simply not be on the agenda right now.

Bharti Airtel has called the 5G spectrum prices "exorbitant" and called for them to be lowered. Reliance Jio Infocomm, has offered the most enthusiastic response to the auction announcement and has backed both the rates as well as auction timing.

On a global level, cellular companies in the UK, South Korea, US and Australia have already launched initial commercial 5G services. On 6 June, China granted commercial licences to four state-owned telecom giants (China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom and the China Broadcasting Network) to start rolling out 5G services.

What Are The Challenges to 5G in India?

The spread of the 5G ecosystem in India is expected to be more protracted than in other countries.

"5G connections in India are forecast to reach 88 million by 2025, leaving India trailing regional peers such as China, which is set to see almost 30 percent of its total connection base on 5G by 2025," according to a GSMA Intelligence report released in May 2019.

Here are some hurdles to the development of a 5G ecosystem in India:

Overpricing of 5G at Auctions

Rajan Mathews, director general of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), stated that the government of India has overpriced the base auction of 5G to telecom operators – each unit of 5G spectrum has a base price of Rs 492 crore ($69.2 million). In South Korea, the same band was priced at roughly Rs 131 crore per MHz in auctions held in June. Telecommunications operators in India, particularly Bharti Airtel & Vodafone-Idea are already struggling because Reliance Jio’s extremely low pricing of data plans is eating away at their profits.

Lack of Spectrum

The spectrum for 5G services is available only in 700 MHz and 3,300-3,600 MHz bands. However, after the Department of Space & Defence forces staked their claims only 175 MHz of spectrum is available for commercial usage. According to a report by The Hindu Business Line, this will be enough for just two players, given that each operator needs blocks of at least 80-100 MHz to offer real services.

Will 5G Be Revolutionary in India?

5G-enabled devices set to launch in the coming years will be largely redundant for the Indian consumer as the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), infrastructure, and spectrum to support the network is absent.

Technology that requires 5G is nascent in India, such as self-driving cars, remote-controlled surgery. Mobile phone users are better off with their existing phones, using the 4G data network. In fact, 4G itself still has a lot of kinks that need to be fixed before India can fully migrate to 5G.

The country is still playing catch up with 4G. The presence of 3G and even 2G in some pockets ensures that a nationwide release of 4G and then 5G will be a herculean task to accomplish.

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