Ericsson last year kicked off a '5G for India' programme in partnership with the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi to start driving 5G ecosystem in India. That programme incubated in the form of the '5G Centre of Excellence and Innovation Lab' that the Swedish giant launched at IIT Delhi last month. The 5G Centre of Excellence and Innovation Lab is touted to bring the country's first 5G testbed that will help not just the industry but also various stake holders to start building innovations around the next-generation network. Ericsson would like for it to play a crucial role in the formal rollout of 5G in the country that could happen in 2020.
"We believe that this Centre of Excellence will stimulate the 5G ecosystem in India by creating a platform for collaboration between the academia, industry, and entrepreneurs to come together and create local use cases and applications which can be tested an implemented in Indian environments," says Nitin Bansal, Head of Network Solutions, Market Area - South East Asia, Oceania and India, Ericsson.
Ericsson executives and engineers closely worked with IIT Delhi professors for several months before the formal opening of the 5G Centre. Professor Brejesh Lall, who is the coordinator for the 5G Centre of Excellence and Innovation Lab at IIT Delhi, tells Gadgets 360 how the centre came to be. "The first step was aligning Ericsson and IIT goals towards contributions in the space of 5G," recalls Prof Lall. "Then technical discussions were held to define the scope of the Centre of Excellence. Finally, a plan was worked out on how to make the facility available to researchers and the industry in India. The hard work bore fruit and the Centre was formally inaugurated last month."
At present, there are five professors who are working at the 5G Excellence Centre and Innovation Lab along with their interns to explore different models powered by a 5G network. There are plans to open the venue for 20-25 professors from different institutes to work on various projects building new use cases. The team at IIT Delhi is also set to connect with other colleges and institutions and ultimately invite the industry and startups to let them come and use the facility. "Now that the Centre has been established and the equipment and testbed have been set up, the vital step of making the best use of the available facilities has begun," says Prof Lall. "We are in the process of using the testbed for experimentation, analysis, and building proofs of concept. Also, underway is the work to enable other researchers and the industry to use the facility remotely or by visiting the Centre."
The key reason for Ericsson to step up to the plate and build the 5G Centre of Excellence and Innovation Lab at IIT Delhi is to enable research and development in the field of 5G specific to the Indian market. "A 5G use case in North America might not be that relevant in India," says Bansal. "Similarly a 5G use case in India might not be relevant in China. That's where these partnerships and the role of academia becomes critical so that they can research and test diverse use cases specific to that region."
India is already one of the key markets for Ericsson. Citing the recent Ericsson Mobility report, Bansal highlights that the total data traffic per month in the country is expected to grow five times from 1.9 EB (exabyte) to 10 EB by 2023, while it is globally expected to reach 107 EB per month in the next five years. "That is massive levels of data flowing on the network. This demand will drive the first commercial application of 5G - enhanced mobile broadband," he adds.
Apart from enhanced mobile broadband, 5G is aimed at enabling high speed, ultra-low latency that will be used by sectors such as manufacturing, agriculture, and healthcare. Bansal also notes that 5G will become the foundation for new service categories demanding near real-time network responsiveness, ultra-broadband speeds, integrity, security, and reliability. All this will help power developments such as autonomous cars, remote surgery, AR and VR experiences, and smart city projects. These are some of the developments that are set to be tested at the 5G Centre of Excellence and Innovation Lab over time.
Meanwhile Prof Lall underlines how the facility will help students by giving them an opportunity to look beyond theory. "Traditionally, our country has been very strong in the theoretical understanding of concepts in our students," the professor says. "They, however, struggle with practical aspects of cutting-edge technology. The Centre of Excellence has the requisite infrastructure to correct this for skilling the students in the area of new mobile technologies particularly 5G."
Inside the facility
The 5G Centre of Excellence has two sets of equipment that work as giant replicas of 5G handsets. Weighing 700 kilograms - we are talking about early prototypes here - this equipment works in tandem with a BTS (base transceiver station), though everything is still very much experimental in nature. This means that they have various ports and the ability to let testers connect them with multiple users. Prof Lall explains that the Centre also lets users from other IITs connect to the equipment and work on different projects and experiments using a fibre network. Other IITs can remotely perform their operations using the 5G Centre, though they need to visit the Centre in person to use the air interface.
Prof Lall tells Gadgets 360 that the 5G Centre is capable of enabling different use cases on the avenues of enhanced mobile broadband and ultra-reliable low-latency communication. The teams at the facility are already testing some IoT use cases to curb water pollution and use point-to-point connectivity to enable an autonomous driving model, he adds.
Presently, the 5G Centre of Excellence delivers a throughput of 1.6 GBps (or 16 Gbps) and latency rate of fewer than 3 milliseconds, numbers that are in line with the average throughput and latency rate of a traditional full-fledged 5G network.
Market analysts are optimistic about the 5G Centre of Excellence and foresee it contributing towards the public 5G rollout in India. "The opening up of 5G Excellence Centre at this juncture is among key developments happening towards the building of 5G ecosystem in the country," says Faisal Kawoosa, Lead Analyst and Head of New Initiatives, CyberMedia Research (CMR). "As the LTE technology moves beyond basic data provisioning at high speeds, what is important for its subsequent generations including 5G is that there are very relevant use cases built for the benefits of consumers - individuals as well as enterprises."
Kawoosa adds that the Centre is expected to play a pivotal role in expanding R&D towards use cases. "It is very likely that the broader concepts of use cases of 5G will come from other parts of the world and this Excellence Centre shall play the pivotal role of furthering R&D to make them more relevant to Indian requirements," the analyst says. "That way the 5G Excellence Centre plays a pivotal integration role. Other than this, it shall also start automatically transfer of technology as well as skill development in this upcoming technology."
Parv Sharma of Counterpoint Research says that the 5G Innovation Lab will help build new business models and applications based on 5G use cases. "Ericsson's 5G Innovation Lab will help local develop new business models and applications based on 5G use cases which will be broad and differ by various industry segments," Counterpoint Research Analyst Sharma tells Gadgets 360. "Additionally, the innovation lab will help local businesses, academia, and startups etc. to rapidly develop and test unique 5G use cases and applications. These, in turn, could be deployed to implement India specific solutions and enhancements for various industry sectors such as manufacturing, agriculture, medical, service sectors amongst others."
The 5G Centre of Excellence and Innovation Lab at IIT Delhi is certainly providing a platform to build and test local use cases for 5G. However, this is just a beginning. As Prof Lall points out, there is a need for developing an appropriate mindset. "Given the government thrust and ability of our researchers and developers, India is well on its way towards adopting 5G," says Prof Lall. "The issue that we need to address is our mindset and character. 5G is about a lot more automation and reliance on machines and artificial intelligence. This could prove to be a challenge in some key applications envisaged for 5G, for example, autonomous driving."
"But I am sure that we as a people will adapt and be one of the largest consumers of 5G technology," he adds. "While we reap the benefits of 5G and enjoy the capabilities it offers, it is the responsibility of the government, academia, and industry to ensure that we adopt some of the 5G capabilities to address India specific needs."