For India, 5G is turning out to be catch-22

India’s digital transformation:

  • India is going through massive digital transformation, enabled by high-speed data services.
  • India is the second-largest and fastest-growing telecom market.
  • India has seen massive success of 4G services, while the broadband subscription grew to 412 million (four times increase from 99 million since 2015).

5G services next:

  • The government is determined to launch 5G services by 2020 along with global counterparts.
  • It has constituted High Level 5G India 2020 Forum to come up with the vision, mission and goals, as well as to evaluate and approve roadmaps & action plans for 5G India 2020.



  • Fifth-generation wireless, or 5G, is the latest iteration of cellular technology, engineered to greatly increase the speed and responsiveness of wireless networks.
  • 5G is expected to offer connections that are many times faster than current connections, with average download speeds of more than 1Gbps (exact standards have not been set up yet) expected to soon be the norm.
  • 5G has been conceived as a foundation for a more smarter and connected world.

Huge leap into the future:

  • 5G, with its great speed, responsiveness and ability to handle huge number of connections, will provide a one-stop solution for the convergence of data, voice, IoT (Internet of Things) and M2M (Machine-to-machine) devices.
  • It has the capability to handle billions of IoT-led devices and enable digital transformation of services like healthcare, education, entertainment, agriculture and employment.
  • In fact, 5G can be a potential enabler for Digital India with new opportunities.

Internet of Things:

  • 5G is considered the backbone of IoT (Internet of Things) due to its high data rate, reduced end-to-end latency and improved coverage.
  • IoT applications such as autonomous cars, intelligent transport, high-speed gaming, etc, which require seamless network with low latency, will benefit.
  • Other applications such as smart cities, home automation, digital healthcare and industrial automation, which produce high amounts of data, require a highly capable, secured and reliable 5G network.

Creating a smart society:

  • 5G will create a seamless network experience by convergence of wireless and Wi-Fi as well as satellite network at the same time, providing next-level experience to the user.
  • It has the potential to bridge the digital gap between urban and rural.

Enable emerging technologies:

  • With 5G, smartphones will just be a part of a huge ecosystem that will include emerging technologies such as AI, virtual reality, 3D printing, robotics, etc.
  • The next generation digital transformation will revolutionise customer experience in gaming, retail shopping and other customer-centric applications.
  • It will also help sectors such as healthcare, education, agriculture, defence and space research with real-time information and insights.



Introduction of 5G:

  • The government has set up the High Level 5G India 2020 Forum to create a roadmap and put in place suitable policy measures for commercial introduction of 5G by 2020.
  • Rs. 500 crore has been allocated for 5G ecosystem development.
  • Trials and testing are under way.



  • While the government’s push to launch 5G by 2020 is logical considering huge demand, the time-line seems very short amidst numerous challenges telcos are facing today.

5G standards and policy:

  • Although developments are under way for commercial deployment of 5G, the government is yet to set 5G standards and policy that will ease the process of deployment.
  • Rather than following global counterparts, India should focus on its own use-cases to develop policies and roadmaps around 5G.

Capex requirements:

  • Huge competition: 5G may require investment to the tune of $60-70 billion, which is difficult for telcos considering 4G is still new and RoI (Return on Investment) is very low due to high tariff wars and competition in the market.
  • Low tariff: Lowest ARPUs (Average revenue per user) etc. have created a severe stress on financial health.
  • Sector already under debt burden: The sector debt of Rs. 8 lakh crore adds to the woes of telecom players to generate investment.
  • As a result, at this point, attracting big investments is a challenge.

Infrastructure deployment:

  • Right of Way (RoW) is a constant issue for telcos and they need to address this, as 5G requires huge infrastructure deployment from telcos.
  • The Right of Way rules were introduced in November 2017, to bring benefit to the Indian telecom sector but suffers due to lack of clarity and implementation hurdles.
    • The RoW rules are considered as a key enabler for expediting the deployment of underground (optical fibre) and over ground (mobile towers) infrastructure in India.
    • The rules aim to rationalise administrative expenses across the country to a maximum of Rs 1000 per km for fibre, and a maximum of Rs 10000 per application for overhead towers.
  • Even for high-speed data services, capable fibre backhaul is a necessity.
  • India is aiming to increase its fibre backbone to 2.5 million km by 2022, from 1.5 million km.
  • Without high-speed backhaul, it will be difficult to cater to QoS (Quality of Service) and data demand.



  • India can leapfrog to a 5G-enabled ecosystem, but has to address the challenges in a timely manner.



GS Paper III: Sci-Tech

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