US-Japan-India Workshop on Strategic Technology Cooperation, 21 Aug 2019
Talk by Dr Arvind Gupta, Director, VIF, on ‘India and the 5G’

The Government set up a high-level forum in Sep 2017 to articulate a vision for 5 G in India and recommend policy initiative. The panel calculated that the impact of 5G in India could reach upto 1 trillion US$ by 2035. It recommended that 5 G should be deployed at the earliest possible. It made certain policy recommendations including higher spectrum allocation for public wireless services. It felt that India should build a more favourable spectrum policy in the 5G era. It also recommended regulatory policy support for the deployment of a mobile network. There were other recommendations in education and awareness, development of application layer standard, participation in international standard launching of 5G trial. The panel recommended that major global Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) should be invited to conduct 5 G trial in India in collaboration with local partners.

The report also focused on building India’s capacity in core technology development and manufacturing for 5G.

In Jun 2019, the government announced that 5G trials will be held in India in the next 100 days. It is not clear whether Huawei, the Chinese company which is most advanced globally, would be invited to the trials. Huawei has become a controversial company because of the national security concerns expressed in the US and many other countries. The high-level forum did not discuss the national security concerns arising out of the use of Huawei equipment and telecom networks. The debate in India on 5G is contentious and inconclusive.

It is believed that India does not have core technologies that underlie the 5G. This means that India will have to import all 5G products and technologies. The enhanced import dependence could adversely impact the indigenous industry and also raise security vulnerability in the critical network. India’s engagement with the development of global 5G standards has also been inadequate. India also lacks the testing infrastructure to test the vulnerability of 5G products.

Clearly India cannot miss on the 5G revolution. But are 5G technologies mature? Some experts feel that there is more hype than substance in 5G debate. India will have to think clearly about the benefits that will accrue from 5G technologies that will require high investments. The various use cases for India have not been fully discussed. 5G requires high density of towers. Will it be possible to construct dense infrastructures in rural areas? Are rural areas suitable for 5G technologies? Will the introduction of 5G technologies in dense areas increase the digital divide in the country? Will it not be better to wait until the 5G technologies mature and India achieve some degree of competence in core technologies? There are many unanswered questions.

India has the critical mass to develop new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Thing etc. India must acquire the capability to build chips, design and testing. It must participate in the development of global standards. In these areas of R&D and commercialization, India can join hands with international collaboration as equal partners. India has a large market, which can help attract high-quality investments and joint venture partnership. Indian companies are already designing 4G chips. They can certainly design 5G chip as well. India can also look at the 6G technologies, which are satellite-based and may be more useful for India.

India is not 5G ready yet but it can certainly be so in the next five years if proper policies are followed. We should promote Start-Up and Small and Medium Enterprises (SME). We should design Indian chips. We should generate more Intellectual Property Rights (IPR). We can postpone the deployment of 5G until the time we have some indigenous capabilities of R&D and manufacturing. This will help us reduce dependence on import and address security concerns. International collaboration are welcomed but as equals particularly when it comes to the intellectual property. India can be the manufacturing hub of 5 G equipment, which can be used not only in India but also for export. A hasty deployment of 5 G should be avoided.

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