Ericsson’s Head of 5G & Radio Access Network Architecture JOAKIM SORELIUS tells what the latest technology holds for India. Excerpts:
It appears that 5G has more of a B2B (business to business) angle with internet-of-things (IoT) and machine-to-machine communications being key use cases of the technology. Is there any consumer angle to it as well?
There’s definitely a consumer angle to 5G. I would say that a majority of revenues from 5G will come from the regular mobile broadband networks that we have today. So even though India is in the early stages of 4G, we’ve seen with RJio development that demand for traffic or data is huge.
All operators, in one way or the other, will start to provide data that consumers are asking for. So there will be a massive traffic increase globally, and maybe even more in India. At some point in time the capacities and capabilities of 4G networks will start to run out, and from that perspective, we need to introduce operations in new frequency bands, those which are usually of higher frequency in spectrum. The need to efficiently utilise these higher bands with new technology, which we happen to call 5G, will be necessary. So there’s definitely a consumer angle to it. We don’t know exactly what the consumers would want tomorrow, but 5G is developed with future use cases that we can’t even dream of today. We are introducing much lower latency, which would perhaps enable virtual reality type of use cases. We are introducing higher reliability, which would ensure there are no outages. We would introduce higher throughput and higher capacity. So all those things will enable the next killer app, and make sure that networks have sufficient potential to meet the demands. But we should not forget the important revenue that operators would find from B2B.
What are the changes an average consumer could experience in his/her smartphone experience when 5G comes in?
The first thing that you will get, as operators are enhancing their 4G networks and preparing for 5G, is less congestion and more throughput at any time, and 5G will take that to the next level, but it is not a 5G unique feature. But once you get lower latency, then you can start experiencing new type of applications like virtual reality, which is very difficult to provide today. Exactly how faster 5G would be, depends on many factors. One factor is technology, and other is how you build your networks, densities, and so on. But when we talk about 5G, the requirements are at least 10 times faster, 10 times more energy efficient, 10 times lower latency, and provide 10 times more bandwidth than 4G services.
Will the device ecosystem in the country need a rehaul for 5G, or can it run on the current crop of devices as well?
5G will be introduced in new spectrum bands, which are not available today, because it won’t be backward compatible. So new devices will have to be developed, and all device manufacturers are working on developing 5G and trialling 5G. The technology leap that is needed is dependent on the frequency bands. The mid-bands — 3.5 GHz — which is being discussed is mainly for India, for which the technology leap is not phenomenal, it is an evolutionary step. When you come to much higher bands like the millimeter wave spectrum, there the technology step is much larger, and there a lot of effort is going on how to miniaturise transmission devices for smartphones, but that will take one or two more years.
So one should postpone plans to buy a new smartphone if any in the next couple of years unless 5G compatible?
You should definitely buy a new smartphone. Smartphones are constantly being developed, 4G networks are being developed in more and more capabilities. The more smartphones that leverage those new capabilities, the more efficient the networks will be. So as a citizen, you should always make sure you have the latest smartphone to offload the networks.
India has been laggard in adoption of technologies like 3G and 4G, and now we’re talking 5G. Do you think the market is ready for a new service, both from an operator perspective as well as consumer perspective?
I don’t think India is more laggard than maybe some other places. In Europe, 4G was quite late to the market. The reasoning was that 3G was available, and was providing great services, why would you need 4G? It was only in markets that were left with no capacity or spectrum for 3G, where 4G started to take off early. I think that’s the same case in all parts of world. Operators won’t invest unless they have a compelling reason to invest. A compelling reason would be the demand for data, and demand for traffic. However, there are a lot of things that regulators and policymakers can do to facilitate the transition to a new technology — to open up the spectrum in a timely manner, not make it too complicated or costly, and create demand by themselves, like having agendas for smart cities, or by connecting people to government or municipal applications. With Digital India, we’re seeing signs that India is going that way, which is very encouraging.
Does India require tweaking of its policies to ensure a quicker adoption of 5G?
The main thing is to provide the spectrum. If the economics are there, operators will invest. We have seen that governments across the world are seeing digitisation and cellular connectivity in particular as a fundamental for competitiveness globally. There are several regions around the world, where the government is actually putting requirements for 5G coverage or 5G investments in order to ensure that there local industry is competitive, that production can be done in the country instead of being outsourced globally. If policymakers want, they can facilitate by investing themselves through municipality cities and also by providing coverage and connectivity.
From a B2B point of view, IoT technologies are being run on 4G as well, so what is the differentiating factor that 5G would offer?
Firstly it’s true that massive IoT technologies are being introduced on 4G networks today. So we’re providing connectivity between devices over 4G network. But there’s nothing new in that. There has been machine communications on 3G and 2G as well. With 4G, with narrowband IoT, we’ve been able to bring the cost points down to a level where it can be actually scaled in a very good way. What 5G is attempting in the first step is addressing the critical machine type use cases, that is where the latency, reliability or throughput requirements are such that it cannot be efficiently met with 4G. Then as a second step, it will also address the massive machine communications use cases, which is being very well addressed by 4G today, and the 5G networks that will be deployed would be compatible with the narrow band IoT networks as well, so we can use those devices in 5G as well.
What are the key sectors that could benefit from a spillover effect of 5G coming in India?
India is a fascinating place in the sense that it has all sectors. There are advanced digital industries of software and hardware, and there are very traditional manufacturing industries as well. We have identified that the main industries would be manufacturing, where the largest value is. Then we have the energy and utilities sector, which is also very important for India.
Apart from these, also transportation, healthcare, along with safety and security applications.
There’s a debate in India about lower tariffs and free telecom services. Could 5G adopt to such a market, or is the technology so good that people won’t mind paying more for it?
It’s very hard to predict, but of course every technology has to adopt to the market where it is being deployed, and 5G is no exception. There are several new features 5G that make it more cost efficient to operate than 4G, like energy efficiency, better spectral utilisation, etc but an operator would never get the equipment for free. So either end-user will start paying something to cover the operator cost, or the operator would try to find other business models so that they can get revenues indirectly rather than from tariffs from the end users.
Could operators in India benefit from a first-mover advantage situation by rolling out 5G, or would the technology offer more of a wait and watch scenario?
Telecommunication in India is a very uncertain place to make predictions. The Ericsson proposal is that operators enhance their 4G networks as much as possible, we make sure that the components that they need are 5G capable, and future proof to 5G, so that the stepping stone becomes as small as possible. We definitely say that now is the time to start enhancing the networks because traffic is growing so fast. If you adhere to that advice, you will naturally be ready for 5G when it comes.
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