The telecom industry in India has seen a consolidation phase and a bunch of global players have exited the market due to cut-throat competition. Meanwhile, increased competition from the newest entrant in the market has brought about financial burden for existing service providers. It's in this backdrop that telco gear makers like Ericsson and Huawei as well as the telcos have started playing an active role to take the country to the next level of bringing 5G to reality. The equipment manufacturers have been showcasing their 5G solutions at different events in recent months and they used this week's India Mobile Congress (IMC) 2018 in New Delhi to demonstrate emerging 5G use cases and their roadmap for making that a reality.
"When it comes to 5G, it's common for all. The whole industry will go towards 5G,” says Nitin Bansal, Managing Director, Ericsson, who showcased a drone at this year's IMC that is designed for surveillance and security purposes. The was developed by drone startup called the IdeaForge in collaboration with IIT Delhi, Bharti Airtel, and Ericsson, Bansal revealed.
The Swedish company also demonstrated a model of a connected autonomous car that used a live 5G network through Reliance Jio on the 3.5GHz band to showcase remote driving. The car used a 5G modem to establish connectivity with 5G radio available at IIT Delhi and it was controlled virtually over-the-air.
Both use cases — the drone as well as the autonomous car — have been developed at the 5G Centre of Excellence by Ericsson that was established earlier this year.
"It all has to be collaborative and that's what we have been saying since we launched the Centre of Excellence that we need to have the industry, academia, and the telco partners together to develop different use cases," says Bansal.
Huawei also showcased its vision for major use cases of 5G at IMC 2018. The Chinese company demonstrated an augmented reality-based holographic communication model in partnership with Bharti Airtel. The model allows users to communicate with a 3D hologram of a person using a 5G network. Further, the company showed a telemedicine use case that it built in collaboration with Reliance Jio in which a remote ultrasound is conducted using a robotic arm/ machine over a 5G network. It also demonstrated a virtual reality-based use case that enables VR gaming, tourism, and shopping experiences over a 5G network.
"If you look at the use cases that include AR, VR, and telemedicine, these are depicting all the facets of 5G, including low-latency and high-throughput capabilities of 5G networks," Radhey Shyam Sarda, Wireless CTO, Huawei India told Gadgets 360. "These use cases are the key enablers for the relevant use cases of 5G in India market."
Not many know this, but Samsung's telecom equipment forms the backbone of Jio's 4G network in India. The South Korean behemoth also believes that a collaborative environment is essential for bringing about 5G adoption and rollout. "With respect to 5G, we believe that it is not a technology like 4G that would rollout, it is an ecosystem," Srinivasan Sundararajan, Senior Vice President and Head Network Business, Samsung India, said at a media routable at IMC on Friday. "It has many things that need to come together. So we believe that 5G adoption will happen through a lot of collaboration."
"The government will play a big part, the academic institutions will play a big part, and the type of use cases will play a big part. But the key thing that will happen in 5G unlike the previous releases is that it will go to many verticals that today are not being catered by the technology," he added.
While 5G isn't something entirely new for Samsung as it's been testing 5G technologies for several years, in India the company is entirely focussed on Reliance Jio. "Jio will always remain the prime partner for us, says Sundararajan. "Today, all our discussions with Jio." Having said that, the company could tap other operators over time to expand its presence in the country.
Sundararajan also tells the media the existing Samsung equipment available with Reliance Jio is upgradable to 5G through a software update. This is similar to what Ericsson has been offering to its telco partners.
In addition to Samsung's presence in the Indian telecom industry, the company is one of the key solution providers in the US and Korea. Operators using Samsung gear in the US are already offering 5G in certain areas, while the commercial rollout of 5G network in Korea is planned for December this year, that will continue to grow in phases by the end of the first quarter next year. "In 5G, almost every major player in the world have started using Samsung equipment as an initial deployment," boasts Sundararajan.
Samsung at IMC demonstrated a 5G Kiosk that is designed to offer blazing-fast Internet connectivity in a particular area. The company also showcased how the next-generation telecom network can help different sectors, including agriculture and manufacturing.
The Department of Telecom (DoT) recently sent invitations to equipment manufacturers such as Huawei and Samsung to kick off 5G trials in India. Therefore, there is an optimism in terms of hosting the next-generation network testing in the near future.
"I think going forward — either towards the end of the year or early next year — we would expect to see some 5G field trials beginning in India," Sarda of Huawei India tells Gadgets 360. "Next year, there will be more field trials and ecosystem developments. That is how the market would be getting ready to adopt 5G."
Just like Huawei, Samsung is also set to launch field trials of 5G networks in India. "We expect to do the trials in the first quarter [of next year]," reveals Sundararajan. "It will be in New Delhi — the heart of New Delhi area. We do expect using the technologies that both already commercially available in the US and what will become commercially available in Korea by later part of this year."
"We expect these trials to be not like two days and done. This is something you set it up and then over a period of time, different use cases will emerge," the executive continues.
Chip maker Qualcomm also wants to play a role in India's 5G journey. "We have 19 OEMs with whom we are working," says Durga Malladi, Senior Vice President, Engineering and General Manager 4G/ 5G, Qualcomm. "These OEMs span the globe and a lot of them are quite active and popular in India as well. That's kind of the way of putting the fact that at least for smartphones we see that it is [5G rollout] happening in 2019."
Malladi didn't announce the names of the OEMs with whom Qualcomm is presently working to bring 5G-supported smartphones. However, he showcased a reference design at the conference that is touted to be a fully capable 4G plus 5G device. The reference design includes antennas to support mmWave alongside the 3.5GHz band which is of high interest in India for 5G alongside the 26GHz band.
Aside from bringing 5G-enabled mobile handsets, Qualcomm is in plans to bring the next level of connectivity to always-connected computing devices. "We spend a good fraction of time on laptops in addition to smartphones," Malladi tells the attendees of the conference that included a handful of media persons and market analysts. "We've thus come to expect a certain quality from these laptops as well wherein most of our data is on the cloud and you want to have the ability to be always connected to the cloud. So always-connected laptops with 5G is something that you'll see some time from 2019 — if not — from early 2020 onwards."
Qualcomm also has plans to support industries through its 5G-compatible solutions. Malladi says that there is a new set of Key Performance Indicator (KPI) in the pipeline to help businesses leverage 5G. "These are the KPIs of reliability and latency, where reliability is in the order of very low packets error rates and latency in the order of anywhere from 250 microseconds to 1 millisecond," he elaborates. "These are not traditional mobile broadband applications... This is something that we expect to be used in industrial IoT applications such as high-precision manufacturing and control of robots."
Rival MediaTek is also considering 5G as its next big focus area. There are a number of budget smartphones in the Indian market that are powered by MediaTek's SoCs. It thus makes sense for the company to join the race and start thinking about the next-generation networks.
"Being a chipset provider, we have to work in advance," Kuldeep Malik, Director — Corporate Sales, MediaTek India, tells Gadgets 360. "So we are already working with operators and as and when they will be ready to start deploying 5G and testing it, we should be ready. Globally, particularly in China and Europe, we're already running trials on to the next-generation, 5G generation devices."
Are we ready?
While equipment makers like Ericsson, Huawei, and Samsung are busy laying out the 5G roadmap, the telcos have more pressuring issues in mind like enhancing their 4G networks that would ultimately lay the groundwork for 5G.
"Telcos are densifying 4G right now, but it is also a step towards preparing for 5G," asserts Sarda, adding, "I would say 5G is a journey and we're at the beginning of the journey."
Bansal of Ericsson believes that to make the market ready, there is a need to work together. "I think all of us together have the obligation to make the market ready otherwise the market will not come prepared saying hey I'm ready now, deploy 5G," he says. "It's a stepped approach, the industry, telecom companies, and academia need to work together to create that part."
Last year, the government constituted a High Level 5G India 2020 Forum that brought various officials, industry experts, and academicians on board. It was essentially aimed at bringing early deployment of 5G in the country, with commercial rollout sometime in 2020.
Samsung's Sundararajan predicts that the initial 5G rollout will co-exist with 4G. "In my personal view, we are all ready, but we may not be ready like a 2G nationwide-like a scenario. It may be based on certain use cases that drive the initial journey," the executive adds.