India to set up 100 labs for developing 5G apps, business models and use-cases
Even as India’s long delayed 5G network roll-out continues at a rapid pace, the government has outlined plans for expanding 5G’s use beyond consumers and enterprises. In her Budget speech, Union Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman called for the development of new applications and business models, which will also create more jobs. There are plans to set up 100 labs in engineering institutions to develop applications and use-cases for 5G services. It should be noted that GE setup India’s first 5G innovation lab in July 2022.
“The labs will cover, among others, applications such as smart classrooms, precision farming, intelligent transport systems, and health care applications,” Sitharaman said in her speech.
“The proposed outlay for 5G labs will further push the development of use-cases and the set-up of private networks in India. The research across universities will push innovations and job opportunities,” said Peeyush Vaish, partner and telecom sector leader, Deloitte India.
The speed at which commercial 5G networks have rolled out, since the official launch in October, has been impressive. India’s 5G auctions, which culminated in the second half of 2022, saw Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vi acquire 5G spectrum for commercial networks, while Adani Data Networks is expected to launch enterprise 5G services with the spectrum it bought. In particular, Reliance Jio confirms it has enabled 5G networks (SA) in 225 cities across India. Airtel doesn’t give a confirmed count of its 5G NSA network service coverage, but continues to add cities every day. Vi is yet to launch 5G services.
“We believe 5G will have country-specific use-cases and India is no different. In fact, India can set an example for the rest of the world,” said Tarun Pathak, research director at Counterpoint Research.
“5G networks and devices without use-cases is akin to highways without places to travel to,” said Muralikrishnan B, president, Xiaomi India.
Test labs for 5G applications provide a sandboxed environment for testing use-case prototypes. Indian telecom equipment company Himachal Futuristic Communications Limited (HFCL) is working closely with tech giant Qualcomm and has a 5G lab which focuses on rural mobile broadband.
GE’s 5G Innovation Lab in India. Top: Jan Makela, president and CEO of imaging at GE Healthcare (center), cuts the ribbon to open the 5G Innovation Lab. Second from left: Girish Raghavan, vice president of engineering for GE Healthcare.
Bipin Sapra, Tax & Regulatory Services, Partner, EY India said that the government had taken a big leap to embrace 5G much more swiftly by setting up these labs. He agreed that they would indeed further boost employment and business opportunities in the country. “Amrit Kaal focuses on being a technology-driven and knowledge-based economy with one of the primary visions of growth and job creation. India has made remarkable advancements in the digital realm and various new initiatives have been adopted to improve the lives of people, accelerating the societal benefits of these technologies,’‘ added Mr. Sapra.
“The setting up of 100 labs to develop 5G will better network connectivity in every nook and corner of the country and further help more sectors and communities to access the benefits of 5G networks,” said Sanmeet Singh Kochhar, vice-president – India and MENA at HMD Global.
Piyush N. Singh, Senior Managing Director, Accenture, said setting up new centers of excellence for AI and 5G labs for developing apps would help democratize AI and push for wider adoption of 5G services. “It will be important for the private sector ecosystem to work closely with the government to realize the digital future of India,’‘ Mr. Singh said.
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Light Reading: 5G war heats up between Airtel and Jio in India
The 5G war between India’s top two telcos, Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel, formally started this month, with both service providers launching their 5G plans.
While both Jio and Airtel launched 5G services in October last year, they have been offering free services to users with 5G-enabled devices. Jio launched the first 5G recharge plan in January this year. This was available to all 4G users with a base tariff plan of 239 Indian rupees (US$2.89) or more. As per this plan, Jio subscribers would need to pay an additional INR61 ($0.7) to upgrade to the 5G upgrade tariff plan, which also includes 6GB of data.
Jio followed this up by introducing the JioPlus postpaid plan for a family of four. It is available in two versions, one priced at INR399 ($4.82) for 75GB data and the other at INR699 ($8.45) for 100GB data. This plan may help Jio attract postpaid customers from Bharti Airtel and, especially, Vodafone Idea, which has yet to launch 5G services. Jio now offers 5G coverage in around 406 cities across the country and is aiming to cover the entire country by December 2023. Jio is the only Indian telco to have launched 5G standalone.
Jio and Airtel seem to be fighting for postpaid users. Around 95% of Jio’s 430 million subscriber base is using its prepaid packages and the company hopes to change this with the launch of 5G services. However, this is possible only if it can attract postpaid users of other telcos or move its prepaid users to postpaid. It is tougher for Jio to attract postpaid subscribers of other telcos because they are typically not as price-sensitive as prepaid users.
Airtel reacted to Jio’s offers by launching an unlimited 5G data plan with the aim to “inspire customers to explore the potential of the Airtel 5G Plus network.” However, Airtel’s 5G network is available in only 270 cities in India, while Jio offers 5G in 400+ cities.
Competition will intensify
Airtel has granted its postpaid subscribers and prepaid users who pay INR239 ($2.89) or more unlimited access to 5G data. It further lowered the entry-level tariff for postpaid family plans by launching a INR599 ($7.24) tariff and two other plans costing INR799 ($9.66) and INR998 ($12.07) as part of its all-in-one Airtel Black offering. While Jio’s family plan is cheaper than Airtel’s, it doesn’t include any OTT offering.
Airtel’s focus on postpaid customers is clear, given it recently increased base tariffs from INR99 ($1.19) to INR155 ($1.87) for prepaid customers.
While Airtel and Reliance Jio slug it out in the 5G market, India’s third-largest service provider, Vodafone Idea, is yet to launch 5G services in the country. The competition will possibly heat up further once Vodafone Idea joins the fray.
The coming few months will see the competition between Jio and Airtel for greater market share intensify, especially in the more lucrative enterprise segment.