At long last: India enters 5G era as carriers spend $ billions but don’t support 5Gi
After years of 5G auction delays, India became the last major Asian economy to launch a 5G network, marking a new wave of spending by indebted Indian carriers. Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the first 5G video call on Saturday to school students to demonstrate use of the service in education. “5G is the beginning of an infinite space of opportunities,” especially for the country’s youth, he said. Well, that has yet to be proven!
Though 5G mobile technology — first introduced in South Korea three years ago — has been viewed by consumers as underwhelming so far because of a dearth of matching applications, local operators led by billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd. are betting that will change. They are counting on the nation’s 600 million-plus smartphone users to switch to the new network in due course and also on industries gearing for a digital transformation.
Carriers agreed to fork out $19 billion just two months ago for airwaves at a government auction, with Reliance’s $11 billion bid topping the list. The conglomerate proposes to invest 2 trillion rupees ($25 billion) more. Billionaire Sunil Mittal’s Bharti Airtel Ltd. and Vodafone Idea Ltd. haven’t disclosed their spending plans as yet.
While Reliance raised more than $25 billion from marquee investors in 2020 to help fund digital expansion, the need to spend big on 5G could weigh on the finances of rivals. Bharti and unprofitable Idea have a combined net debt of $37 billion, and the latter staved off bankruptcy by giving 36% of its equity to the Indian government earlier this year in lieu of back fees it couldn’t pay.
At the launch event on Saturday, Ambani said Jio’s 5G network will cover the entire country by December next year, while Mittal said Bharti Airtel plans to do so by 2024. Given the scale of spending, some experts said carriers are unlikely to undercut each other on prices once again — something that was tried in 2016 when Jio entered the market by offering free calls and cheap 4G data plans, which ended up putting some rivals out of business.
“They will likely provide 5G services to those segments of the market that are willing to pay higher and try and recover as much as possible before making it available to others,” said Rajat Kathuria, a senior visiting professor at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations in New Delhi.
5G’s long road to India has been dogged by several controversies. The main one was about how secure Chinese equipment is — a crucial issue for a country engaged in a border conflict with its northern neighbor. Last year, carriers decided to avoid Chinese vendors such as Huawei Technologies Co. and ZTE Corp., and opted instead to tie up with makers like Ericsson AB, Nokia Oyj and Samsung Electronics Co., potentially adding to their costs.
“India may have started a little late, but we’ll finish first by rolling out 5G services that are of higher quality and more affordable,” Ambani said at the launch event. The technology can bring affordable, superior education and skill development to ordinary Indians and deliver high-quality healthcare to rural and remote areas, he said.
Despite India’s TSDSI getting 5Gi (5G for India or Low Mobility Large Cell) included in ITU M.2150 (previously known as IMT 2020), no Indian carrier has announced support of it. That is a major disappointment for TSDSI. Please refer to the numerous references below.
Offering low latency (that does not meet ITU-R M.2410 URLLC performance requirements) and data speeds about 100 times faster than 4G (depending how close your 5G endpoint is to the cell tower or small cell), the technology may someday have the potential to enable a variety of advanced applications such as holograms, 3D avatars of people in metaverses and telemedicine, in which near-instantaneous transmission of video and data would allow surgeons to operate remotely using a robotic scalpel. So far, such applications have been too slow to evolve. For average users, 5G has mostly meant faster video games and content streaming.
To capitalize on 5G, China has been rolling out smartphone apps and industrial projects such as super high-definition live streaming, remote manufacturing, virtual reality and robotic surgery arms. The country’s three state-owned carriers have introduced more than 25,000 such applications, according to a news article posted by the State Council on its website in August. In South Korea, despite mobile operators’ efforts to come up with killer apps, average revenue per person has only climbed slightly since the 4G era.
In India’s race to roll out 5G, the only winner to emerge so far has been the government: The airwave auction was set to raise a record amount, Telecom Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said in July.
Proceeds from the spectrum auction could provide a big financial boost to Modi’s administration, which has been seeking to tame inflation and rein in fiscal deficits as economists warn of a looming global recession.
India’s TSDSI candidate IMT 2020 RIT with Low Mobility Large Cell (LMLC) for rural coverage of 5G services
TSDSI’s 5G Radio Interface spec advances to final step of IMT-2020.SPECS standard
India lagging in 5G unless spectrum prices decrease & 5Gi standard debate is settled
Jio and Airtel against 5Gi standard; 2 GHz of mid-band needed for India 5G demand
India’s Success in 5G Standards; IIT Hyderabad & WiSig Networks Initiatives
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Light Reading Update:
Bharti Airtel became the first service provider to launch 5G in India, in the capital city of New Delhi by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the recently-concluded India Mobile Congress (IMC), the largest telecom event in India.
Airtel’s 5G will be available in eight cities, including Delhi, Mumbai, Varanasi, Hyderabad, Siliguri, Chennai, Nagpur and Bengaluru. The service provider plans to expand the network across the country by March 2024. As of now, the 5G services will be available at 4G rates and the new 5G tariff will be announced soon.
Close on the heels of Airtel’s 5G launch, Reliance Jio also announced the availability of the beta trial of its True 5G services. It will be available from tomorrow in four cities – Delhi, Mumbai, Varanasi and Kolkata.
Users will get unlimited 5G data with up to 1Gbit/s speed, and will be automatically upgraded until network coverage in the city is complete. It is currently available by invite only.
Jio indicated that its services are likely to remain affordable for all segments of the society, which may prevent Airtel and Vodafone Idea from charging a premium.
“5G cannot remain an exclusive service available to the privileged few or those in our largest cities. It must be available to every citizen, every home, and every business across India,” said Akash Ambani, chairman of Reliance Jio.
“Only then can we dramatically increase productivity, earnings, and living standards across our entire economy, thereby creating a prosperous and inclusive society in our country.”
India conducted the 5G auction in August. Airtel awarded contracts for 5G to Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung soon after. The service provider had acquired 19,867.8MHz spectrum in 900MHz, 1800MHz, 2100MHz, 3300MHz and 26GHz frequency bands. Jio is working with Ericsson and Nokia as well, along with Cisco and Qualcomm.
It is not clear when Vodafone Idea, India’s third-largest service provider, will launch 5G. It has yet to announce vendors for the network. Media reports indicate that the company’s financial health is preventing it from clearing past dues and signing new deals.
Reliance Jio has announced the beta launch of its 5G service, but arguably more interesting than that is the news that it is in talks with overseas operators keen to acquire its homegrown 5G technology.
The Indian operator essentially teased the launch of its so-called True-5G service on Tuesday, the Hindu festival of Dussehra. It was upfront about the fact that this is a beta launch to invited Jio customers only in four cities: Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, and Varanasi.
We don’t know how many customers will be invited in the first wave, but Jio plans to broaden out the beta trial, adding other locations as and when it can. The lucky few – and ‘few’ could well be a relative term, given that Jio claims to have a customer base of 425 million in India – are being offered unlimited 5G data and will be upgraded to the real service once it launches…which seems to be once Jio reaches substantial coverage of any particular city.
“India is leading the Digital revolution. Jio 5G will be True 5G, and we believe India deserves nothing less than TRUE-5G,” said Akash Ambani, chairman of Reliance Jio Infocomm, in a statement, capitals his own. “Jio 5G will be the world’s most advanced 5G network, built for every Indian, by Indians.”
India certainly wants to lead in digital transformation; its government has made noises to that effect for years. Whether it is actually there is questionable. However, Jio is doing its bit to put the country on the map.
Jio is in talks with overseas telecoms operators that could lead to it supplying one or more of them with its locally-developed end-to-end 5G platform, the Economic Times reported, citing an unnamed executive privy to proceedings.
“We are in serious discussions with some global operators,” the newspaper quoted the exec as saying. Jio’s 5G offer was developed through its parent company Jio Platforms. It’s probably worth pointing out that while Jio is of course an Indian company, Jio Platforms counts Facebook, Google and a number of big names in the investment world among its investors and shareholders.
Jio Platforms’ end-to-end 5G solution consists of a 5G radio, core network, cloud infrastructure and cloud native OSS platforms, the paper explained.
It added that while Jio Platforms is looking to sell the offer internationally – and this latest press report seems to support the likelihood of that happening – it does not seem interested in working with Indian state-run player BSNL.
However, the tech will naturally underpin Reliance Jio’s own 5G rollout, which, as previously announced, is slated to be complete by the end of next year at a cost of US$25 billion.
Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani recently pledged to launch 5G “across multiple key cities, including the metropolises of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai,” by Diwali, which is now less than three weeks away. This beta launch, which is presumably what the exec was referring to, gets the telco a good way to hitting that target.
And comments from Jio’s Akash Ambani alongside the beta launch suggest that the company is keeping up the pace.
“5G cannot remain an exclusive service available to the privileged few or those in our largest cities,” Ambani said. “It must be available to every citizen, every home, and every business across India.”
Airtel has announced that its 5G Plus service is now live in 8 cities. The telecom operator has also confirmed that Airtel 5G Plus service will cover urban India by 2023.Airtel has also confirmed that the customers in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Siliguri, Nagpur and Varanasi will start using the Airtel 5G Plus service in a phased manner. Customers who already have 5G smartphones will be able to enjoy high speed Airtel 5G Plus on their existing data plans until the roll out is more widespread. The telecom operator claims that Airtel 5G Plus offers three advantages. First, it runs on a technology that has the widest acceptance in the world with the most developed ecosystem. Second, the company promises to deliver the best experience – between 20 to 30 times higher speeds than today coupled with brilliant voice experience and super-fast call connect.
Finally, Airtel 5G Plus network will also be kinder to the environment with its special power reduction solution.“Airtel has been at the forefront of India’s telecom revolution for the last 27 years. Today marks one more step in our journey as we build out the finest network to deliver the best experience for our customers. For us, our customers are at the core of everything we do. Our solution will therefore work on any 5G handset and the existing SIM that customers have. Our obsession on customer experience is now embellished with a 5G solution that is kinder to the environment.” Airtel 5G Plus is all set to redefine the way people communicate, live, work, connect and play for years to come,” said Airtle in an official statement.
Jio will start a beta trial of 5G services in four cities – Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta and Varanasi – from October 5 with a select set of customers, the company said on Tuesday.
The company will send an invite to customers under Jio True 5G Welcome Offer to try its 5G services, and the subscribers will get unlimited 5G data with up to 1 gigabit per second speed.
“Post the successful demonstration of its True-5G services at the India Mobile Congress 2022, Jio is announcing the Beta trial of its True-5G services on the auspicious occasion of Dussehra for Jio users in 4 cities – Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, and Varanasi,” Jio said in the statement.
Invited users will be automatically upgraded to the Jio True 5G service without needing to change their existing Jio SIM or 5G handset.
Customers will only pay for their existing 4G plan and will not be charged an additional amount for 5G data during the trial.
Reliance Jio Infocomm Chairman Akash M Ambani said that by embracing 5G, Jio will create nation-first platforms and solutions that will transform skill development, education, healthcare, agriculture, and many such sectors, with the promise of enabling a better life for every Indian.
“5G cannot remain an exclusive service available to the privileged few or those in our largest cities. It must be available to every citizen, every home, and every business across India. Only then we can dramatically increase productivity, earnings, and living standards across our entire economy, thereby creating a prosperous and inclusive society in our country,” Ambani said.
Indai’s 5G needs Cybersecurity:
Following the 5G spectrum auctions in India earlier this year, 5G services were launched on October 1st. With 5G, manufacturing, energy and utilities, information and communication technology and retail industries are expected to generate $17 billion in incremental revenue by 2030, as per an Ericsson-Arthur D Little study. This is because 5G networks are designed to handle the connection of billions of devices including the Internet of Things and the Industrial Internet of Things (IoT and IIoT).
As revolutionary as the technology is, one thing is certain: history has shown us time and again that as new technologies emerge, cybercriminals aren’t far behind And as organisations — both public and private — gear up to embrace 5G, it is important to identify the cybersecurity challenges and build resilient systems to establish a line of defence.
Today, 5G networks are expected to move away from existing centralised, hardware-based switching to a more distributed, software-oriented digital routing. This software-defined approach to networking is projected to help achieve high performance as it provides tools for programming, traffic control, and network slicing. With 5G software-defined networks hardware enforcement points do not exist for traffic inspection and the control of cyber risks.
Adding to the risk is the fact that functions that were previously performed by dedicated and purpose-built physical hardware are virtualized in 5G, e.g., implemented in software. Since 5G requires internet-facing networks, this expands the threat landscape significantly.
Since 5G networks are expected to be implemented using low-cost, short-range small-cells gateways deployed across cities, the gateways themselves will become targets for threat actors. Additionally, 5G’s spectrum sharing capabilities via multiple ‘slices’ adds to the existing risk as each slice can become an entry point for an attack. Given the dynamic nature of 5G networks, an attacker who obtains control of the software managing the networks can take over the entire network through lateral movement, thus paralyzing core infrastructure that could cause disruption.
5G is expected to increase the connectedness of devices —which adds fidelity, and user convenience and increases efficiency. Here’s the catch — as many of these devices have poor security implementations, and any attack will have consequences in the real world since many of the attached devices are involved in physical activities.
It needs to be kept in mind that securing 5G requires a nuanced approach. Having robust policies to protect OT, people and processes first, then technical solutions become necessary considering the cyber-physical nature of 5G networks. Every party involved in managing and implementing 5G networks needs to consider people in all areas of the organisation on the journey, ensuring that the risks of deploying 5G devices are clear.
With cyber-attacks on 5G networks potentially posing grave threats to daily life, every player in the industry must come together to combat these threats. 5G security policies must include sharing of threat intelligence, security methodologies and interoperability within the wider community, so visibility into critical assets is possible.
Since the private sector in India largely owns and operates most telecom networks, they must partner to ensure security is intrinsically woven into the 5G infrastructure. With a shared risk model, network owners/operators will ensure that the infrastructure is as secure and available as it can be. At the same time, the public sector must assume responsibility for the security of the applications it uses.
Besides, gaining visibility into 5G networks is critical. Understanding the scale of vulnerabilities requires owners, operators and users of 5G infrastructure to work together to bridge the exposure gap. A risk-based method helps gain comprehensive visibility across the attack surface. It equips organisations to anticipate threats and prioritise preventative efforts. It also enables better communication of cyber exposure risk leading to better decisions on cybersecurity strategies.
Once 5G is widely available, both security teams and threat actors will experience a swift learning curve while navigating this new technology. The speed and reach will connect businesses more than ever before, but could also have dangerous ripple effects in terms of increased cyber risk. As we begin to adopt 5G more widely, it’s important that organisations in India keep cybersecurity top of mind, to ensure business and its people are protected.