India’s struggling telco Vodafone Idea is partnering with engineering and construction conglomerate Larsen & Toubro for a pilot project to test 5G-based smart city solutions, as part of its ongoing 5G trials on government-allocated spectrum.
In the pilot to be conducted in the city of Pune, the companies will collaborate to test and validate 5G use cases built on IoT and video AI technologies leveraging L&T’s Smart City platform, Fusion, to address the challenges of urbanization, safety and security, and offering smart solutions to the citizens.
Vi has deployed its 5G trial in a setup of end-to-end captive network of Cloud Core, new C1 – Vodafone Idea External generation Transport and Radio Access Network.
Abhijit Kishore, chief enterprise business officer at Vodafone Idea, said: “Telecommunications solutions are the backbone of building smart and sustainable cities. The advent of 5G technology opens whole new opportunities to address challenges of urban growth and provide end-to-end solutions to support sustainable creation of Smart Cities, in the future. Vodafone Idea is happy to partner with Larsen & Toubro to test 5G based Smart City solutions and utilize our mutual expertise to find solutions that can help shape cities of the future.”
“In this constantly-evolving world, we are seeing an exponential rise in demand for smarter and more intelligent solutions and L&T Smart World is committed towards leveraging the latest technological innovations in the IoT and Telecommunications areas to benefit society at large. We are excited to partner with Vodafone Idea to bring to the table our experience, of having successfully executed several smart solutions across Indian cities, to develop customized, IoT-driven 5G solutions for various industry and enterprise verticals”, said J. D. Patil, senior executive VP of Defense and smart technologies at L&T.
The partnership between Vodafone Idea and Larsen & Toubro will trial several 5G use cases that cover 5G services such as enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communications (uRLLC) and Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC). The firms said that the partnership will help to analyze the performance requirements of smart city applications and business models in 5G, design and implement 5G-based “smart and safe city” applications and use data analytics tools to visualize and analyze the trial results.
Vodafone Idea (Vi) has been allocated 26 GHz and 3.5 GHz spectrum in the mmWave band by India’s Department of Telecom (DoT), for their 5G network trials and use cases. In its initial test results Vi has achieved peak speed in excess of 3.7 Gbps with very low latency on the mmWave spectrum band. These speeds were achieved with state-of-the-art equipment in 5G Non-Standalone (NSA) network using 5G NR compliant radios. The Indian telco has also achieved peak download speeds of up to 1.5 Gbps in a 3.5 GHz-band 5G trial network with its original equipment manufacturer (OEM) partners.
The high speed and low latency characteristics of 5G network may enable improved surveillance and video streaming/broadcast to permit the evolution of 5G smart cities and smart factories. Smart City and Industry 4.0 will hopefully accelerate with 5G deployment and usher in new era of Digital India.
As forVi’s two telco competitors:
- Bharti Airtel has recently demonstrated India’s first 5G rural trial using network equipment from Ericsson. It has also showcased 5G cloud gaming.
- India’s wireless network market leader Reliance Jio has trialed 5G VoNR, AI-multimedia chatbot, and immersive high-definition (HD) virtual reality.
The DoT had approved applications of Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone in May, and MTNL later for 5G trials. The permission has been granted for six-month trials with telecom gear makers Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung and C-DOT.
On October 5th Bharti Airtel said it has conducted India’s first rural 5G trial with Swedish telecoms equipment maker Ericsson. The demonstration took place in Bhaipur Bramanan village on the outskirts of Delhi/NCR using 5G trial spectrum allocated by India’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT).
“The trial showcases the massive potential offered by 5G towards bridging the digital divide by enabling access to high speed broadband through solutions such as enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) and Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) services,” the companies said in a joint statement.
The trial demonstrated over 200Mbps throughput on 3GPP-compliant 5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) device located more than 10km from the site.
The trial also showcased that a commercially available 3GPP-based 5G smartphone could connect to the test network and record over 100Mbps speeds at a distance of more than 10km from the site.
The 5G site was powered by Ericsson’s 3GPP-compliant 5G radio. The trial was carried out by utilizing the allocated mid-band trial spectrum in 3500MHz band and existing FDD spectrum band.
“Having demonstrated India’s first 5G network and also the first 5G cloud gaming experience, Airtel is proud to have also conducted the nation’s first 5G trial in a rural geography. 5G will be a transformational technology when it comes to delivering broadband coverage to the last mile through use cases like FWA and contribute to a more inclusive digital economy,” said Randeep Singh Sekhon, Airtel CTO.
“The technology milestone of extended coverage achieved by Ericsson and Airtel as part of the ongoing 5G trial in India is even more significant since it demonstrates how 5G can ‘connect the unconnected’ in India, enable faster 5G rollout and truly help India realize its ‘Digital India’ vision,” added Nunzio Mirtillo, Head of Ericsson South east Asia, Oceania and India.
According to an Ericsson study, on average, a 10% increase in the Mobile Broadband adoption ratio causes a 0.8% increase in GDP.
Airtel has previously demonstrated cloud gaming in a 5G environment, as part of its 5G trials in Gurgaon’s Manesar. It had used the mid-band spectrum provided by the DoT for this purpose. The Sunil Mittal-led telco has also been rallying to ensure that any new 5G handset sold in India must support all existing bands in India for 5G, including the mmWave bands.
Earlier this year, Airtel successfully demonstrated 5G services over a live 4G-LTE network in Hyderabad, marking an industry first. It is also conducting 5G trials in multiple cities across India and validating technologies and use cases through the trial spectrum allotted by the DoT . Airtel has partnered with Ericsson and Nokia for these trials.
Q and A with Nunzio Mirtillo, head of Ericsson (Southeast Asia, Oceania and India):
How has been the market performing for Ericsson this year?
We have been doing well in India and increasing our market share constantly. Over the past three/four years, we have been increasing our market share in India and we have kept our market share when the merger with Vodafone and Idea happened. When it comes to Bharti, we have increased market share substantially in the last few years, both on core and on radio, showing two things – one, our willingness to stay and increase our presence in India, and two, that we are competitive. Because you can be willing to do something but then you also need to be competitive in terms of technology, in terms of TCO and we have been showing that. And on top of that we have been delivering quite a good quality of service to our customers because that is ultimately what counts the most.
Have your telco partners been spending on network expansion aggressively?
We know the situation of Vodafone Idea, and I believe they have a great chance to do well in India and I think they will. And now with the latest from the government, I hope they will have a nice restart. When it comes to Jio we are not a relevant partner with Jio when it comes to the radio business, although we work with Jio. I think they have been also doing their job and their investment in a nice way. But Bharti has accelerated quite a lot in the last few years, and you can see the result in their market evaluation and also in terms of subscriber acquisition, ARPU increase, and we have been part of that journey, partnering with them as well. Showing that India is a market where if you do invest, you provide network quality and you have the right strategy and the right focus, the market is there. And if you do well, you will get the payback for that.
How do you see this whole 5G story panning out in the Indian market?
The sooner the better for the country actually. As everyone says in Q1, the spectrum will be made available from the government to the operators. So, I really hope so. India has been a bit sleepy for a while but then in the last three, four years it really did catch up quite a lot on 4G. So now the country should not lose momentum.
Secondly, the government should make available at least between 80 to 100 megahertz of 3.5GHz or the mid-band to the existing operators and also make sure that they auction millimeter wave spectrum which is a 400 megahertz which will be very much needed going forward to match the tremendous demand of mobile broadband that will be there in the future. And also, you also need to take care of the transport network, so we also need enough spectrum on the E band for connecting the 5G networks.
That’s what we believe and that’s the basic and India cannot, in my view, go below basic because there’s the Digital Highway for the country, it’s not only kind of business as such. It’s really a vital infrastructure for the future of India. And they also need to make sure that they deliver that spectrum at a reasonable price because otherwise they will impact from the start the ones that are supposed to invest.
I think they will be reasonable, because I have seen a lot of good things in India in the last few years with the tremendous push shown on Digital India, Make in India, and it’s all good programs.
While 5G is coming (some day soon?) to India, and there are 4G networks present in almost all of the country, there is one thing that can’t be ignored. The private telecom operators who have built a strong business around providing 4G coverage throughout the country have failed to deliver ‘true 4G’ to Indians. Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) is still a 2G/3G player, so that state-run telco is not included in this article.
According to the ‘Speed test Global Index’ report from Ookla [1.], India is currently at the 126th position in terms of providing the fastest mobile data speeds to users. Pakistan is ahead of India at 120th position.
Note 1. Here are the top 10 countries with the fastest mobile Internet speed in Mbps as of end of July 2021:
|1||–||United Arab Emirates||195.52|
Mobile download speed jumped 59.5% over the last year globally to 55.07 Mbps
The average mobile Internet speed delivered to users in India was 17.96 Mbps. In comparison, the number one country on the list, United Arab Emirates (UAE), offers users 195.52 Mbps speeds while the U.S. average is 96.31 Mbps. There is a humongous difference between UAE and India.
So why does a telecom operator like Jio, which has so much profits in the books, can’t provide very high-speed networks to the users? This question also applies to companies like Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel.
The problem is getting higher mobile internet speeds would have costed the end-consumer a lot more money. Today, India offers mobile data at one of the cheapest/most affordable rates globally. From paying more than Rs 200 for each G Byte of mobile data in 2016, now Indians pay less than Rs 10 for the same amount.
This has allowed even the low-income Indian people to latch on to the same network services as the high-income ones. Since Jio arrived with ultra low prices, India’s mobile telcos could either reduce the price of data, or they could go out of business.
Because of affordable plans and services, which benefitted a lot to the customers, the overall profit margins and the average revenue per user (ARPU) started to drop. This resulted in the telcos being limited in their capacity to make investments in the networks to enhance performance.
In simple words, if the telcos don’t charge you more, they don’t earn more. If they don’t earn more, they can’t invest in their networks and really can’t provide you with the 4G experience customers in countries like the UAE do.
But there’s one more thing to factor in here. It is not just how the Indian market is that is responsible for this. But the telcos have also been fighting to get the larger subscriber market share. Companies like Jio can easily hike tariffs and support Vi and Airtel in doing the same. But Jio won’t go for the tariff hike to increase ARPU because it wants a larger subscriber market share. The other companies are also handicapped because of the same. However, it is not like Vi and Airtel don’t want a better subscriber market share; it’s just that the ball is in Jio’s court at the moment.
Further, the government had also put so much stress on the sector. There were so many forms of statuary dues, regulatory norms that involved so much money going out of the operators’ pockets. However, the recent relief package should be able to help with that.
India’s mobile operators are limited to provide a premium service to each of their customers because of their limited return on investments (ROI).
Note that providing better network services also includes purchasing more airwaves from the government, which involves thousands of crores. There are also other investments such as network towers, fiber conversion costs, and much more than a normal mobile consumer is aware of.
India based telecom equipment company STL (Sterlite Technologies Limited) has launched Accellus, its flagship solution for 5G-ready, open and programmable networks. This new product line raises the position of STL as a provider of disruptive solutions for Access and Edge networks. For the past 5 years, STL has been investing in research and development to expand its capabilities in converged networks based on fiber optic broadband and Open RAN.
India’s PLI Scheme
The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), which represents service providers and network equipment vendors, said that the production-linked incentive (PLI) scheme will boost local manufacturing, exports and also create employment opportunities. STL plans to take advantage of that initiative. Nokia (through its India subsidiary) said the guidelines were an encouraging initiative by the government towards making India a global manufacturing hub. “Nokia is committed to this vision with our Chennai factory that manufactures telecom equipment from 2G to 5G-making for India and the world.”
“India is already the second largest telecom market globally and this will go a long way in making the country a global hub for telecom innovation,” said SP Kochhar, director general, COAI.
STL’s Accellus is built on this industry-leading converged optical-radio architecture. The company expects the global adoption of this decision to accelerate at a rate of 250% on an annual basis, stimulating better TCO for customers and gross margin for shareholders. Accellus will allow four main benefits for network builders – scalable and flexible operations, faster time to market, lower TCO and greener networks.
Accellus will lead the industry’s transition from tightly integrated, proprietary products to neutral and programmable converged wireless and optical networking solutions. It offers wireless and fiber-based solutions:
1. 5G multiband radios: Exhaustive portfolio of RAN radios with single and multiband macro radios. Co-developed in partnership with Facebook Connectivity to build total availability for Open RAN-based radios
2. Internal small cells: O-RAN compliant, highly efficient internal 5G small cell solution, with level 1 edge treatment
3. Wi-Fi 6 access solutions: Outdoor Wi-Fi 6 solutions providing carrier-class public connectivity in dense environments
4. Intelligent RAN Controller (RIC): An Open RAN 5G operating system that allows the Open RAN ecosystem to use third-party applications to improve performance and save costs
5. Programmable FTTx (pFTTx): A complete solution that offers programmability and software-defined networks in large-scale FTTH, business and cellular sites (FTTx) networks
Commenting on the launch of Accellus, Philip Leidler, Partner and Consulting Director, STL Partners, said: “One of the goals of the O-RAN alliance was to expand the RAN ecosystem and encourage innovation from a wider base of technology companies worldwide. the message is the last indication that this goal has been achieved. “
Commenting on the launch of Accellus, Chris Rice, CEO of Access Solutions at STL, said: “Disaggregated 5G and FTTx networks based on open standards are becoming more common for both greenfield and brownfield deployments. These networks will require unprecedented scalability and flexibility, possible through an open and programmable architecture. STL’s Accellus will unlock business opportunities for our customers and provide a immersive digital experience worldwide.”
Optical fiber has evolved in its maturity and in its form factors to drive the infrastructure medium for the “wireline” side of the network. It continues to be the preferred medium for high-speed network delivery, Rice said.
Answer: “Upgrade the network backhaul and core IP infrastructure for the expected growth in bandwidth that 5G Applications will enable. The necessity of wireline 5G upgrades sometimes does not get the attention it deserves; this includes IP equipment (e.g. cell site routers) and the necessary fiber upgrades to the cell sites.
Perform the network planning for the new cell site builds required to get the coverage and capacity required for ubiquitous 5G at the speeds users expect. For 5G to pay off for Telcos, there have to be new capabilities and services to sell that deserve higher price points from consumers and business users.
Ensure that operational automation is available to keep operating costs reasonable, especially as the number of cell sites grows. CAPEX is typically only 20 to 25% of the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for a RAN, meaning that operating costs are 3X to 4X what CAPEX is. The RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) is an example in ORAN / Open RAN that helps Telcos fulfil this need in an open way. It is essentially the operating system for Open RAN. It provides a platform for third-party applications to deliver these operational benefits and automation.”
How Is STL Helping Industry Stakeholders to Explain to Government Officials the Importance of Fiber for 5G or High-Speed Broadband?
Answer: “Network speed in the RAN air interface is essentially meaningless without the ability to ensure that the connected IP network can backhaul the required bandwidth. This fact necessitates additional fiber deployments to the existing cell sites (where it does not exist) and to new cells sites.”
In conclusion, Rice opined, “Our (STLs) newest business unit, the Access Solutions BU, focuses on fiber broadband and 5G wireless products. These products are based on open networking principles and give STL the opportunity to participate in the disruption that is occurring in the open networking markets, like ORAN and Open RAN initiatives. While Access Solutions BU is new, it has an R&D and innovation heritage of almost four years. During that time, a top talent team has been put in place, fundamental technology and innovation have been developed and matured, and now a well-defined product roadmap has been put in place as the BU launches many new products in its Accellus product line.”
India’s telecom department has set the stage for another mega spectrum sale by sending a reference to the sector regulator, seeking fresh base prices for the gamut of airwave bands, including key frequencies like 700 MHz, 3.3-3.6 GHz and the coveted millimeter waves such as 26 GHz and 28 GHz that support 5G technology (but have not been agreed upon in revision 6 of ITU-R M.1036 Frequency Arrangements for Terrestrial IMT).
India’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has also sought fresh base prices for 4G airwave bands such as 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz and 2300 MHz, two people aware of the matter said. But with the time usually taken for the consultation process, sources say it may be tough to meet government’s auction timeline of January-February, 2022.
The reference comes at a time when the government has acknowledged that high spectrum pricing is a prime reason behind the acute financial stress in the debt-laden telecom industry, and is also open to price rationalization in public interest.
In its reference, the department has sought recommendations from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) on the terms of reference for the next auction and the quantum of airwaves proposed to be auctioned, one of the persons cited told ET.
“We have received a detailed reference from DoT about 2-3 days back, seeking our recommendations on spectrum matters and pricing…there are a number of spectrum bands involved, and the Authority is currently examining the reference and will respond to the government,” Trai secretary V Raghunandan told ET. He, though, declined to share details.
Sector analysts expect the potential annual cash flow relief stemming from the four-year moratorium allowed on statutory payouts to give Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio the financial headroom to participate aggressively in the next spectrum auction. They, though, don’t expect Vodafone Idea (Vi) to participate as strongly if it’s unable to close its much delayed Rs 25,000-crore fundraise.
Another official said that Trai will need to seek additional details from the DoT, before proceeding with its analysis and starting the consultation process.
After a DoT reference, Trai conducts a process which includes a four-week period for stakeholders to submit their views after a consultation paper is floated, followed by two weeks for counter comments. Then Trai holds open-house discussions before arriving at its recommendations. The whole process usually takes about four-five to months at least.
On March 1, India concluded its first spectrum auction of 2021. India’s Department of Telecom (DoT), through a Notice Inviting Applications (NIA) issued in January 2021, had put up spectrum for auction in multiple bands, including 700, 800, 900, 1800, 2100, 2300 and 2500 MHz bands. These frequencies cut across 2G, 3G and 4G service bands and included both FDD (paired) and TDD (unpaired) bands.
The auction was a qualified success. It netted the Government $10.6 billion and was almost double initial estimates. However, barely 37% of the total spectrum put up for auction had takers, while the 700 MHz band saw no bids at all.
The main takeaway from this auction is that the focus of India’s telcos is currently on 4G, not 5G. With several licenses coming up for renewal, it was imperative that telcos bid on expiring spectrum to renew but also to consolidate with new holdings. The biggest bidders were Reliance Jio ($7.8 billion), Bharti Airtel ($2.55 billion), followed by VodafoneIDEA a distant third with bids worth $272 million.
There was heavier than expected bidding in the 800 MHz band as well as the 2300 MHz band. All of the three operators bidding have taken different approaches to this auction. The common theme for both Jio and Airtel’s auction strategies was to shore up existing spectrum, acquire new frequencies to consolidate holdings per circle and boost capacity, and lay the groundwork for an eventual 5G network launch.
For its part, Vodafone IDEA (VIL) has taken a very frugal, optimization strategy to spectrum. Their public position has been that they have abundant spectrum and therefore are not hard-pressed to bid aggressively. This is true, with VIL holding ample spectrum, but there is no doubt that they would have had very limited means due to a stressed balance sheet.
Bharti Airtel said that it is engaging new partners to enable 5G use cases for various consumer and enterprise use cases in India. It will also start a campaign to educate users about their next 5G smartphone to ensure if they can get the best experience with support to all relevant bands.
A handset to support all possibilities of 5G is very important, Bharti Airtel’s chief technology officer Randeep Sekhon told ET. Airtel will come out with a campaign for users who want to buy 5G handsets informing them about various checks of their particular handsets to make sure the handset works well in India across not just 5G but various other bands and carrier aggregation. “This is important when you choose a 5G handset to get the best experience,” he said.
The Sunil Mittal-led telecom operator had recently urged the India Department of Telecommunications to bring uniform guidelines to develop the 5G smartphone ecosystem. It recommended that any new 5G handset sold in India must support all existing bands in India for 5G, including the mmWave bands.
Indian telecom operators have spectrum in the 2G, 3G and 4G bands which can be refarmed and used for 5G NSA or 5G SA and also use Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) for fast deployment. They want handset brands to support all existing spectrum bands like 1800/2100/2300 MHz and sub-GHz bands 800/900 Mhz.
The telecom operator said that it successfully conducted a cloud gaming session on its 5G trial network in Manesar using the 3.5GHz spectrum band. Sekhon said that “immersive entertainment” will be another major consumer use case of 5G. “But, for A/R and V/R, content needs to be created and be personalized at the edge. We are seeing how we can make it real.”
Airtel is currently using the 3.5 GHz spectrum band for 5G trials in Delhi-NCR and Mumbai. Sekhon said that the telco hasn’t started 5G trials using mmwave band. “As and when we will get equipment, we will try that too. 3.5 GHz anchored with traditional 4G bands are currently being used for trials.”
“For the B2B, industry 4.0, high speed, high latency and mass concurrency around IoT cloud and 5G are required.. We are working with many of our industry customers on creating fir infra, FMCG, factory, mining. This will be relevant,” Sekhon added.
The CTO said that telecom operators can’t do everything by themselves and their main focus is to build the best infrastructure to enable partners. Airtel, he said, will have various partners to enable 5G use cases like education, e health and for industries.
“Some partnerships are for initial 5G trials and some will for massifying the roll out. The 5G real experience will happen when all stakeholders ecosystem partners are available,” Sekhon said.
Bloomberg says India risks lagging in the rollout of the 5G wireless networks unless the government makes airwaves cheaper in an upcoming spectrum auction, a local telecom industry body said, citing the financial stress in the sector.
“The reserve prices are fixed so high that almost 50-60% of the spectrum may go unsold,” S.P. Kochhar, director general of Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), said in an interview August 27th. “It is not viable because we are not passing on the extra price to the consumer as we continue to bleed. We have to reduce our cash outflow and one of the major things money goes into is auctions.”
Proceeds from the 5G airwaves auction, likely early next year, is an important source of revenue for the Indian Exchequer (UK term for Treasury Dept.) especially as the Narendra Modi-led government looks to spur India’s pandemic-hit economy. Too high a reserve price for spectrum risks putting off wireless network operators whose financial health has been battered by a brutal tariff war after the entry of billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd. in 2016. Most operators since have quit, gone bankrupt or merged.
Lowering the base price for auctioned spectrum and other government levies have been a longstanding industry demand. The local telecom industry is paying about 32% of its total revenue as levies and taxes and that’s “too high,” said Kochhar. “It’s the highest in the world.”
India’s government has set the reserve price for 5G airwaves at 4.92 billion rupees ($67.2 million) per megahertz of spectrum in 3,300 to 3,600 Mhz bands which are most suitable for the new technology. Kochhar expects the auction to happen in January or February 2022.
High reserve prices have hindered spectrum sales in some categories in the past. The 700 megahertz band, which is suitable for 5G technology, didn’t receive any bids in the March auction.
Sidebar: TSDSI’s 5Gi standard (included in ITU-R M.2150 recommendation/IMT 2020.specs)
Another important aspect of 5G in India deployments has been the deliberation on the development of specific 5G India standards (5Gi or LMLC). While the Telecommunications Standards Development Society of India (TSDSI) has been keen on pushing telcos to undertake trials based on 5Gi, a homegrown standard with a Large Cell Low Mobility enhancement for wider coverage in rural areas, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) has argued for the implementation of the global 3GPP specification (5G NR in Release 15 & 16) for 5G in India. They remain convinced that 5Gi could lead to interoperability issues. This ongoing debate is further delaying the 5G launch in India.
Source: The Economic Times
India remains a relative latecomer in the 5G space compared to some countries, including China and South Korea, which already have 5G networks in place.
If the government can “somehow have the right price point for spectrum,” it would boost the growth of 5G network traffic as well as the devices, Bharti Airtel Ltd. Chairman Sunil Mittal said in an investor call Monday. “We need to invest in fiber backhaul now.”
The market leader Jio and Bharti Airtel, India’s no. 2 operator, have been conducting 5G trials in preparation for a nationwide roll out once the airwaves are sold.
Debt-laden Vodafone Idea Ltd. — the only other private sector wireless operator left in India — has been posting losses for several quarters and is struggling to stay afloat. Bharti and Vodafone Idea also have to come up with billions of rupees in back dues to the government after India’s top court rejected their petitions seeking relief.
“At this point, the payouts in telecom are so excessive that even survival is becoming a problem,” said Kochhar. That strongly implies there will be only two 5G network operators in India- Jio and Bharti!
BSNL is aiming to upgrade the 4G network to 5G non-standalone (NSA) by 2022 (pending 5G spectrum to be purchased at the long delayed auction) and to 5G standalone (SA) by 2023. What about that? Almost every country has already deployed 5G NSA while operators are slowly evolving to 5G SA using different software technologies in the absence of any standard or implementation spec.
Light Reading says BSNL is unlikely to meet to this timeline, with shortlisted 4G network vendors still conducting tests. It is likely to be another year before BSNL can roll out a 4G network, while private-sector companies are gearing up for a 5G launch in the coming year.
Indian telecom operators have informed the India Department of Telecommunications (DoT) that the so-called Indian component of the ITU 5G RAN recommendation M.2150 (Low Mobility Large Cell/LMLC or 5Gi), doesn’t have a device ecosystem and it should only be considered as optional and non-mandatory for the telecom industry. They said that making the 5Gi standard mandatory would increase prices of smartphones.
TSDSI’s 5G Radio Interface Technology, referred to as LMLC or “5Gi” cleared the rigorous processes of International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and has been approved by ITU-R WP 5D and then ITU-R SG5 as a part of Draft Recommendation M.[IMT-2020.SPECS] in its meeting held on 23rd November 2020. That recommendation was approved by ITU-R as recommendation M.2150 early this year.
5Gi, the first ever Mobile Radio Interface Technology contribution from India to become part of ITU-R’s IMT recommendation, went through a rigorous evaluation process of the ITU-R working groups over the past 3 years before getting the approval.
This standard is a major breakthrough for bridging the rural-urban digital divide in 5G deployment due to enhanced coverage. It enables connecting majority of India’s villages through towers located at gram panchayats in a cost effective manner. It has found support from several countries as it addresses their regional needs from a 5G standpoint.
Indian telcos, vendors and chipmakers met the DoT Secretary last week for stakeholder consultation on the 5G ecosystem. The meeting was also attended by members from academia, ICEA, TSDSI, CDoT and chipmakers.
During the meeting, an Airtel representative told the secretary that 5Gi is not globally harmonized and will lead to costly devices and delays in rollout.
Reliance Jio representative also urged the department to avoid mandating any requirements for consumer devices for spectrum, features etc., as they are market driven. “No minimum technology specifications approach for 5G devices,” the company said as per the minutes of meetings accessed by ET.
COAI, which represents telcos and telecom equipment vendors, told the department that 5Gi doesn’t have a device ecosystem and efforts to be made as part of 3GPP [1.].
Note 1. That is a false assertion as TSDSI, which is a member of 3GPP, presented its 5Gi/LMLC to ITU WP 5D as a Radio Interface Technology (RIT) for IMT 2020. After numerous contributions and tests, it was accepted as an integral part of ITU-R recommendation M.2150. LMLC was not contributed to 3GPP for inclusion in their 5G Releases 15 and 16.
“There will be implications if there is a separate handset production line for India which then can increase prices. We have sought clarification. It is claimed that there will be minor tweaks in handsets,” COAI director general S P Kochhar told ET.
Bharti Airtel once again raised the device ecosystem related issue with the department and said that 5G devices are required to support in all licensed bands auctioned in India including 2100 MHz, 1800 MHz in both standalone and non-standalone 5G modes.
“Handsets must support NSA Carrier Aggregation and Dynamic Spectrum Sharing in FDD and TDD spectrum bands,” Airtel said, adding that devices should also be capable of transmitting “26 dBm” both in NSA and SA modes.
Telecom operators reiterated the need for affordable 5G handsets to drive the uptake of high-speed service upon commercial availability. The cheapest 5G device is currently available at Rs 15,000 but only supports N78 band or the mid-band.
During the meeting, the COAI said that 5G standards should support both consumers, industry, and the Indian government must play a facilitating role.
“We are most happy if the local 5G standard is globally harmonized. Globalization will help in lowering the cost of devices and achieving scale. It will also make India an export hub for 5G handsets. Harmonization with 3GPP is crucial even as there is substantial progress for 5Gi with the ITU,” Kochhar said.
Responding to ET’s queries, Prof. Bhaskar Ramamurthi, Director IIT Madras, former Chair-TSDSI and Chief proponent of 5Gi said that 5G handsets require only minor firmware and software changes to become 5G+5Gi handsets, which will not lead to any increase in costs as confirmed by some handset solution providers and operators.
“Even earlier, “operator specific” changes have been implemented by the vendors – example – modems have region specific requirements such as bands, power levels and Dual SIM which involve hardware changes. Also, given the scale of the Indian market in terms of no. of connections and growth rate, the initial development cost of making these modifications, modest as it is, will get amortized very quickly,” Ramamurthi added.
“We should not see a situation where the industry is stuck. If 5Gi gets harmonized then it is a win-win situation. Otherwise the cost to the subscriber will be high,” Kochhar added.
The Jio representative also supported the technology neutral approach for 5G and suggested that India’s government must make efforts for global harmonization of 5Gi standards by making it part of 3GPP .
Note 2. This assertion is also completely wrong. 3GPP is NOT a standards body. All of their specs must be transposed by it’s member standards bodies (e.g. ETSI, ATIS, etc) or ITU-R to be considered as standards. TSDSI took their 5Gi/LMLC directly to ITU-R WP-5D which accepted it as part of the first official 5G RAN standard- ITU-R M.2150. Any harmonization of 5G standards must occur in ITU-R WP-5D and NOT 3GPP.
Samsung, which is the sole 4G equipment provider for Jio and India’s second largest smartphone brand, also supported telcos’ demand for a harmonized 5Gi standard during the meeting.
Both Jio and Airtel reiterated their demand for lowering the reserve price for 5G spectrum.
“Current pricing of mid-band spectrum is unrealistic,” Jio said, supporting the need to seek the reserve price from TRAI for all 5G spectrum bands for auction with a clear request that the reserve price be kept reasonable in order to meet the 5G proliferation goals.
The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) will seek a fresh base price from the telecom regulator for the 3300-3750 MHz as well as floor prices for other bands that can support 5G.
Jio also urged the department to make available 2 GHz of mid-band spectrum to meet the demands of 2025-2030 timeframe. Airtel, on the other hand, asked the government to auction spectrum in mmWave band along with mid band and 600 MHz band and earmark them for 5G.
Jio has also asked the India DoT to identify and incorporate in NFAP  the entire C band 3.3-4.2 GHz, mmWave 24.25-29.5 Ghz, 37 GHz along with E and V bands.
Note 3. The NFAP is a central policy roadmap that defines future spectrum usage by all bodies in India, including DoT, the Department of Space and the defense ministry.
It’s very disappointing that after all of TSDSI’s efforts to get 5Gi/LMLC included in the 1st official IMT 2020 RIT/SRIT standard (ITU-R M.2150) they couldn’t convince India telecom carriers or global equipment/chip vendors to endorse 5Gi/LMLC.
Intel said that it is helping Reliance Jio make the transition from 4G to 5G as part of their 5G infrastructure deal. Intel and Jio are collaborating in the areas of 5G radio, core, cloud, edge and artificial intelligence.
“…our collaboration spans those areas, and it’s co.innovation. So, we have got our engineering and business unit teams working closely with Reliance Jio in those areas. And we are committed towards helping customers and partners like Reliance Jio to make the transition from 4G to 5G,” Prakash Mallya, vice president and MD of sales, marketing and communications group at Intel told ET.
Intel’s investment arm, Intel Capital, had in 2020 invested Rs 1,894.50 crore to buy a 0.39% equity stake in Jio Platforms.
Separately, Bharti Airtel Wednesday said it is collaborating with Intel for working towards 5G network development by leveraging Virtualized Radio Access Network (vRAN) and O-RAN technologies.
This is Intel’s second 5G-related partnership in India. As per the above, Intel is collaborating with Reliance Jio to help India’s #1 telco with its 5G network development, including in the areas of 5G radio, core, cloud, edge, and artificial intelligence.
Airtel will deploy Intel’s 3rd-generation Xeon Scalable processors, FPGAs, and eASICS, and Ethernet 800 series across its network to build a foundation for rolling out wide-scale 5G, mobile edge computing (MEC) and network slicing which requires a 5G SA core network.
The partnership will also allow Airtel to tap into the hyperconnected world where Industry 4.0, cloud gaming, and virtual/augmented reality (VR/AR) become an integral part of daily lives, according to an official statement.
Earlier this year, Airtel became the first telecom operator in India to demonstrate 5G over a live network in Hyderabad using liberalized spectrum.
The Sunil Mittal-led Bharti is also conducting 5G trials in major cities such as Gurgaon’s Cyber Hub in the Millennium city and in Mumbai’s Phoenix Mall in Lower Parel, in partnership with Swedish Ericsson and Finland’s Nokia, respectively, ET previously reported.
Airtel also entered into a partnership with Tata Sons and Tata Consultancy Services to deploy OpenRAN 5G solutions, including radio and core. It plans to begin pilot in January 2022.
Jio has developed and tested its homegrown 5G solutions together with its partners in India and plans to export the solutions to global markets once proven at a pan-India scale.
Prakash Mallya, vice president and MD of sales, marketing and communications group at Intel recently told ET that the company is helping Indian telecom operators. On Jio partnership, he said that Intel is helping the Mukesh Ambani-led telco transition from 4G to 5G as part of their 5G infrastructure deal.
Intel’s investment arm, Intel Capital, had in 2020 invested India Rupees 1,894.50 crore to buy a 0.39% equity stake in Jio Platforms.
Randeep Sekhon, CTO – Bharti Airtel said, “Airtel is delighted to have Intel as a part of its rapidly expanding partner ecosystem for 5G. Intel’s cutting-edge technologies and experience will contribute immensely to Airtel’s mission of serving India with world-class 5G services. We also look forward to working with Intel and home-grown companies to unlock India’s potential as a global 5G hub.”
“Airtel is delivering their next-generation enhanced network with a breadth of Intel technology, including Intel Xeon Scalable processors and FlexRAN software to optimize RAN workloads with embedded intelligence, to scale their infrastructure and deliver on the promise of a connected India,” Dan Rodriguez, Intel corporate vice president, Network Platforms Group said in a joint statement.
India’s Digital Communications Commission (DCC), formerly the Telecom Commission, has authorized use of satellite connectivity in telecom networks to provide services in remote areas where it is difficult to lay fiber optic cable. As a result, VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminals) operators will now be able to provide satellite-based cellular backhaul connectivity to telcos in India. That enables Indian wireless telecom communications service providers, like Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea, to use satellite capacity from VSAT license holders, such as Hughes, Nelco and BSNL, to connect their cell sites.
“With a view of ease of doing business, the DCC has approved provision of cellular backhaul connectivity via satellite through VSAT for telecom services as per Trai recommendation,” said India’s Telecom Secretary Anshu Prakash.
VSAT backhaul can also help Indian telcos cost-effectively extend coverage in rural and remote areas that are yet to be connected with fiber. Around 50% of India’s population is not yet connected to the Internet.
Several global LEO satellite providers, including Elon Musk’s Starlink, Bharti backed OneWeb and Amazon’s Project Kuiper, have recently started exploring the Indian market. OneWeb specifically will offer satellite capacity for cellular backhaul, but will need a VSAT permit to provide satellite-based backhaul services to the telcos.
Starlink and Project Kuiper have different business models, focusing on providing satellite-based broadband Internet directly to end users.
Telecom Secretary Anshu Prakash also said that the DCC has also cleared the Request for Proposal (RFP) for the rollout of BharatNet project for broadband services in villages in 16 Indian states in public private partnership mode with viability gap funding of Rs 19,041 crore (or US$ 2,544,834.60). “DoT (Department of Telecom) will come out with the tender for the PPP mode rollout of BharatNet in 16 states in seven days,” Prakash said.
BharatNet project objectives are to:
- To carry on the business of establishment, management and operation of National Optical Fiber Network (NOFN) which has been envisaged by the Government of India to provide high speed broadband connectivity to all gram panchayats.
- To provide access to bandwidth in a non discriminatory manner to all eligible service providers to enable them to provide services in rural areas.
Comment and Analysis:
Just as India’s 5G spectrum auction has been the victim of one delay after another, so has the BharatNet project. The timeline for 2nd phase of the BharatNet project, earlier slated to be completed by August 2021, was extended with no definitive completion date.
“The BharatNet phase-II project was envisaged to be completed by August 2021. However, this time will now be extended as the pace of completion is affected by lockdown and restrictions on movement imposed by the various Governments due to COVID-19,” said India Minister of State for Communications Sanjay Dhotre.
“The delay in the implementation by the states is also adversely affecting the completion of the project. For other states, not being implemented under state-led model, the implementation strategy is under the process of review,” he added.