Vodafone Idea (Vi) is working with a “few companies” to prepare for trials using India’s own 5G standard 5Gi, which is included in ITU-R M.2150 as 5G Radio Interface Technology (RIT) for LMLC- Low Mobility Large Cell. The third largest telco in India said that once the telecom equipment is ready, it will conduct trials using the 5G LMLC technology.
“We are already working with a few companies. As and when the product is ready, we will be keen and will be doing trials and deploy accordingly” Jagbir Singh, chief technology officer (CTO) of Vi said on Friday. He didn’t divulge details of the partners are.
5Gi is currently being evaluated by India’s Telecommunication Engineering Center (TEC) for commercial adoption in India. Experts believe that 5Gi is a better option for setting up rural connectivity as it is cost-effective, improves spectral efficiency, and reduces spectrum wastage of up to 11 per cent compared to its global counterpart — the 3GPP approved 5G standard. However, existing telecom operators and equipment vendors are not in favor of adopting the local standard as they say 5Gi is yet to show any of these performance gains at a commercial scale.
Vodafone Idea has partnered with L&T Smart World and Communications, Athornet, Vizzbee Robotics, Tweek labs, Athonet, Nokia and Erricson to provide enterprise solutions. Arvind Nevatia, Chief Enterprise Officer, Vodafone Idea, also said that Vi will be looking to partner with other enterprises now that they have been granted a six month extension on 5G trials.
Vi has been allocated 26 GHz and 3.5 GHz spectrum in the mmWave band by the DoT, for 5G network trials and use cases. Vi has achieved peak speeds in excess of 1.5 Gbps on 3.5 GHz, more than 4.2 Gbps on 26 GHz and up to 9.8 Gbps on backhaul spectrum of E-bands.
Indian telcos, network equipment and chipset vendors along with handset have opposed the incorporation of 5Gi as a national standard citing compatibility issues with 3GPP’s global 5G standard, which has already been adopted globally for commercial live networks. Telcos had urged the Department of Telecom (DoT) and the TEC to merge 5Gi with 3GPP’s global 5G NR spec to achieve scale and bring down costs, but that has not happened yet.
“We follow the 3gpp standards (they are specs- not standards– and have no official standing) for the core network…along with the firewalls. We are going to ensure whatever we do for our IT and network platform specific for the core data protection policy in coordination with 3GPP. Network slicing ensures data protection for each enterprise…all customers are equally protected in terms of security,” he added.
On Friday, Vodafone Idea (Vi) demonstrated some of the 5G technology solutions and use cases as a part of its ongoing 5G trials on government allocated 5G spectrum in Pune, Maharashtra and Gujarat. These tests come at a time when the three rivals -Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio. and Vi are trying to keep pace with each other in the race towards next generation technology.
Singh added that Vi has 30-35% fiber for backhaul for its wireless network, which it is increasing in urban areas. “5G will be a combination of fiber and E band.”
The company is now preparing to expand the scope of 5G trials and is in talks with its and is in talks with its existing customers and startups. Rival Airtel became the first telco to test 5G technology in the 700Mhz band on Thursday. The telco will be working with start-ups for more use cases.
“We were not aware that we will be getting an extension for trials till 3-4 weeks back. We were not doing that on a very high intensity basis, but now with the clarity we will restart the process of engagement,” Arvind Nevatia, Chief enterprise business officer, Vi.
The telco highlighted new revenue models, as a result of 5G. “What we are seeing is evolving models from fixed commission basis to subscription models whether it is in the consumer space or the SAAS space , a lot of new revenue models are emerging in the country…. ,” said Nevatia.
However, prices of 5G have been a contentious issue between the sector and the government. Chief regulatory officer P Balaji said the decision will be taken by the government, which is setting up the auction process process including consultation on prices with the regulator.
“We see Vodafone Idea as an active partner in the digital vision of the government and as India develops its own 5G plans , we will be happy to participate”, said Balaji.
The current base price of Rs 492 crore for a unit of 5G spectrum in the 3.3-3.6 GHz band has been deemed too expensive by all three Indian telcos.
Many experts believe that adoption of the ITU-R M.2150 5Gi standard in India by the government will enable India to leap-frog in the 5G space, with key innovations introduced by Indian entities accepted as part of global wireless standards for the first time. The nation stands to gain enormously both in achieving the required 5G penetration in rural and urban areas as well as in nurturing the nascent Indian R&D ecosystem to make global impact. TSDSI’s efforts are aligned with the national digital communication policy that promotes innovation, equipment design and manufacturing out of India for the world market. The TSDSI 5G standard also has the potential to make a significant impact in several countries with poor rural broadband wireless coverage. TSDSI remains committed to the development of globally harmonized 5G standards with substantial innovations to address hitherto neglected needs of countries such as India. TSDSI-RIT is a step in the right direction so that our indigenous technologies for rural coverage and connectivity find their rightful place in the 5G eco-system that will be deployed in India and elsewhere.
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.