September 10, 2022
Hello and welcome to All Indians Matter. I am Ashraf Engineer.
With the first round of airwave auctions for 5G complete, networks would be rolling out the service which could offer data speeds up to 10 times higher than the current offerings under 4G. 5G is expected to be implemented soon and most believe it will aid in unlocking the next phase of India’s economic growth. 5G has the potential to transform the entire business and social services landscape, from education and healthcare to manufacturing and agriculture. Here’s how it will change your life.
First of all, what exactly is 5G? Fifth-generation, or 5G, mobile is the latest upgrade in the long-term evolution, or LTE, mobile networks that offers fast internet speeds, greater reliability and a more uniform user experience. 5G works mainly on three bands – low, mid and high-frequency – and all three have their own uses and limitations.
Low-band 5G uses the 600 Mhz to 900 Mhz frequency, which is similar to the 4G range, and can provide a maximum speed of 100 Mbps. This, however, is not suited to most specialised needs of various industries. Mid-band uses the 1.7 GHz to 4.7 GHz range, while high-band uses 24 GHz to 47 GHz. Even the mid-band has limited coverage area and signal penetration, while high-band offers the highest speed of the three. India’s services providers are expected to use the mid- and high-band spectrum.
India is a key market, estimated to be the second largest in the world, with close to a billion subscribers and dominated by three companies – Vodafone Idea, Bharti Airtel and Jio.
India’s 5G rollout is actually a delayed one, initially scheduled for 2018. However, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea faced cash flow and capital issues. The world, meanwhile, raced ahead. In the US, AT&T, T-mobile and Verizon took the lead with AT&T deploying 5G in 2018. By 2020, Verizon had expanded 5G services to 60 cities in the US. In China, China Unicom also started 5G trials in 2018 and has rolled out the commercial service since then.
All eyes are on India now. According to an Ericsson report, telecom firms are expected to earn $17 billion by 2030 from 5G-enabled services. For you, it will mean an even more smart and connected world and a better user experience. You will be able to view 4K video on your smartphone, use augmented and virtual reality, gaming apps and other immersive activities. Download rates will enter a whole new paradigm.
Understandably, user interest is high and they are willing to pay more for the services. According to a Consumer Lab study, at least 40 million smartphone users are expected to subscribe to 5G within a year of it rolling out and they would be willing to pay 50% more for plans that bundle digital services along with it. By 2027, it is thought that 5G will represent 39% of mobile subscriptions in India, estimated at 500 million. As for pricing, it could be slightly higher than 4G but not too much higher.
What’s clear is that 5G will be a force multiplier for the economy. India already has several 5G-compatible devices in use, which is great news for the push to become a $1 trillion digital economy by 2025. 5G will help by enhancing last-mile connectivity, narrowing the digital divide and usher in smart living through interconnected devices.
The most significant impact it would have is on manufacturing. 5G will be the key enabler of the digitisation and advancement needed for creating flexible, efficient and sustainable production. Manufacturers will be able to better deploy automation, artificial intelligence, and the internet of things by seamlessly linking factory systems to supply chain, distribution, warehousing and customer service. 5G will support logistics through better tracking of inventory and safety enhancement.
How? With such connectivity, fleet providers can track vehicles in real-time and drivers can receive alerts about road conditions thereby preventing accidents. Optimum routes can be chosen to head off delays and the 5G network can help in real-time vehicle condition monitoring. This will help avert breakdowns. Augmented-reality-assisted repair and maintenance will provide support on and off the road and 5G can support unmanned automated vehicles for transportation.
5G will cut out the need for wired connectivity, lowering down time and wastage, and raising productivity. The high reliability will support smart manufacturing through process automation, remote monitoring and maintenance. AI cameras and robots will work on 5G, with IoT sensors on machines monitoring their status and sending alerts when maintenance is needed.
Automated guided vehicles can be controlled via 5G networks to transport heavy materials around industrial facilities. Through real-time video analytics via 4K cameras, industry will get better visual-quality inspections, implement workplace safety, plant surveillance and intrusion detection.
In mining, robots can be deployed where it is dangerous for people to venture, while drones can be used for security and surveillance as well as inventory counts. 5G-enabled autonomous drilling, robotics and ventilation in the mining and oil and natural gas industries can save lives, increase productivity and cut operating expenses.
This is a lot but this episode wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t talk about the impact on agriculture. 5G is expected to disrupt the sector in which 60% of the workforce is engaged but which contributes only 18% of the GDP.
Among the first manifestations will be the introduction of precision agriculture, which means achieving the best cost realisation, optimising livestock resources, smart management and getting farmers the best price for their crops by connecting them to different markets and buyers. 5G-enabled drones will spray fertilisers or pesticides after remotely sensing the need for them. 5G-powered sensors would measure soil properties and crop characteristics in real time. The system would then calculate the quantity of fertiliser, water and insecticides needed, thus raising productivity and lowering costs.
The other applications would be in climate monitoring. Data from numerous sources would be collected, updated frequently and sent to the cloud. The data would be analysed to present actionable insights to farmers. 5G-enabled weather station devices could help farmers monitor windspeed, direction, temperature, humidity, sun exposure and air pressure specific to their farms in real time. The advice would extend to things like what crop to plant, which seeds to use, when to plant, when and how much to irrigate, where to sell the crops, etc.
Lastly, there are 5G-powered livestock monitoring and management devices that could become common. India has more than 30 crore heads of cattle but productivity is low. The daily milk yield per head is 4 to 6 litres; compare that with 30 to 40 litres in Israel. Technology would help increase the productivity of the cattle. Using the devices I mentioned, farmers can monitor pests and disease and take appropriate action. The sensors can be fixed to the ears of the animals and farmers would know remotely if the animal is in heat or ill. Its behaviour, health, feeding patterns, food and water quality as well as hygiene levels can also be monitored along with their exact location.
As you can see, the advantages are huge. But it’s not all hunky dory. There are serious challenges too. For instance, huge investments are needed in infrastructure but not all service providers are on solid financial ground. Some are struggling under huge debt burdens. There are hundreds of millions of subscribers who still use 2G and 3G services and the networks will need to find ways to move them to 4G and 5G. Smartphone prices have fallen drastically but they’re still unaffordable to millions. Most experts believe that we need smartphones that cost a maximum of Rs 7,000 but we don’t have them yet. Lastly, India has more than seven lakh mobile towers but that’s not enough. For a smooth rollout, we need at least double that number. That’s time consuming and costly.
A lot will depend now on how the service providers deal with these challenges and whether there will be adequate government support. Without that, the 5G dream, like so many other dreams, could be one that simply plods along instead of soaring high.
Thank you all for listening. Please visit allindiansmatter.in for more columns and audio podcasts. You can follow me on Twitter at @AshrafEngineer and @AllIndiansCount. Search for the All Indians Matter page on Facebook. On Instagram, the handle is @AllIndiansMatter. Email me at email@example.com. Catch you again soon.