The next generation of wireless communications, popularly known as 5G, is in testing phase in various parts of the world. As global telecom bodies are looking at defining 5G standards, the first formal deployment of 5G technology is expected to happen in 2018.
In India, telecom operators including Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd, Bharti Airtel Ltd and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) have signed deals to roll out 5G services possibly by 2020. In an interaction with Business Today, Joakim Sorelius, head of 5G and RAN architecture, Network Products, at Ericsson, speaks on the 5G scenario.
How big is the 5G opportunity in India?
Joakim Sorelius: A new report from Ericsson suggests that 5G-enabled digitisation revenues in India will be $25.9 billion by 2026. The Indian operators can generate additional revenues of $13 billion or half of the stated potential if they take up roles beyond connectivity and infrastructure providers and become service enablers and service creators.
The biggest opportunity will be seen in sectors such as manufacturing, energy and utilities, followed by public safety and health. Some of the 5G use cases that can be implemented using unique technology features are industrial control and automation, autonomous driving, safety and traffic efficiency services, hospital applications and medical data management, among others.
Operator revenues from traditional services are likely to grow from $37 billion to $63 billion by 2026 due to population growth, increased penetration and high GDP growth. Both 5G and 4G will be instrumental for the same. However, 5G-enabled industry revenue potential for operators can be an incremental 20 per cent [or $13 billion] on top of $63 billion.
What are the key drivers that may lead to fast adoption of 5G technology?
First, traffic on telcos' networks is growing immensely. In order to satisfy the demand for data traffic, we need better and efficient ways to handle that data. Therefore, in the coming years, 5G will be an important part that will support the increase in traffic across regular mobile broadband.
In fact, 5G is the foundation for realising the full potential of a networked society. Just like the transitions to 2G and 3G, the move to 5G will add a new element - the industrial Internet. And much like the transition to 4G, it will ensure much higher performance than the previous generation.
It will also enable organisations to move into new markets and build new revenue streams with radically new business models and use cases, including the IoT (Internet of Things) applications. New capabilities of 5G will span several dimensions, including tremendous flexibility, lower energy needs, greater capacity, bandwidth, security, reliability and data rates, as well as lower latency and device costs. Hence, IoT will only become mainstream on a 5G footprint, using network slicing.
What's the expected 5G timeline here, from first adoption to full-scale implementation?
We believe this year will be the year of 5G. We are already in talks with almost all customers for 5G plug-ins, including massive MIMO (multiple input multiple output). Additionally, we are planning to start 5G lab trials this year in India. Then standard trials will happen in mid-2018. We expect to see a lot of activity in this field in the coming years.
Our '5G for India' programme with IIT-Delhi will witness the first series of tests in the second half of 2017 and will place the country on a par with other developed countries in terms of 5G network and application deployment. Globally, limited deployment and 5G trials are expected to start by mid-2018 while commercial availability is slated for 2020.
What about the implementation cost compared with 4G and 3G?
As for 5G, there is great interest among operators across the world, including India. Although 5G is slated for commercial availability around 2020, we believe that operators should enhance their 4G networks as much as possible, make sure that the components they need are 5G-capable and future-proof them to 5G, so that the stepping stone becomes as small as possible.
But for 5G to be possible, 4G has to attain a good level of maturity. Operators around the world - and also in India - are looking at developing a strong LTE footprint in a bid to provide better coverage to consumers. 5G will not be an overlay network; it will work in tandem with 4G. Therefore, to stay relevant in the 5G ecosystem, operators need to have good quality 4G networks.
What are the ideal spectrum bands for 5G rollout from the equipment availability standpoint? For instance, 1,800 MHz is globally considered the best for 4G services and most 4G handsets sold in the market are compatible with that besides 800 MHz and 2,300.
Well, 5G will be introduced across new spectrum bands that are not available today because it will not be backward compatible. So new devices will have to be developed. All device manufacturers are working on developing 5G and testing the same.
The technology leap required depends on the frequency bands. The mid-bands - 3.5 GHz - is mainly for India for which the technology leap is not phenomenal; it is an evolutionary step. When you come to much higher bands such as the mmWave, the technology step is much larger, and a lot of effort is going on to miniaturise transmission devices for smartphones. But that will take one or two years.
Additionally, 700 MHz has not been allocated yet in India. It's a candidate for 5G. There are some movements in the US around this band for 5G, and it is being considered in Europe as well.
Do you think 5G rollout will be entirely dependent on telecom operators just like 4G?
Compared with previous generations of wireless communications technology, the rationale for 5G development is to expand the broadband capability of mobile networks, and to provide specific capabilities not only for consumers but also for various industries and the society at large. Hence, it will unleash the potential of IoT.
A recent report by Ericsson says that "a small majority of European and North American operators believed 5G would be more consumer-driven while a similar majority in the Asia Pacific and Central and Latin America expected 5G to be more business-driven". Another survey report by Ericsson states that machine-to-machine communications, broadband connectivity, cloud services and mobile constitute a key driving force behind business innovation within the respondents' companies and industries. The great majority indicated that they intend to make significant changes to their businesses in order to take maximum advantage of 5G when it arrives.
Exploration of the corresponding business cases - in sectors such as agriculture, automotive, construction, energy, finance, health, manufacturing, media, retail and transport - is, therefore, critical to ensure that 5G standards ultimately meet the needs of the targeted customer base.
5G is said to be machine-to-machine communications technology that's expected to boost IoT. Do you think its purpose will be largely restricted to industrial use? Or will it be used for conventional data services?
There's definitely a consumer angle to 5G. I would say that the majority of revenues from 5G will come from regular mobile broadband networks that we have today. Even though India is in the early stages of 4G, we have seen that the demand for traffic or data is huge.
All operators, in one way or the other, will start providing 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.
We are introducing much lower latency, which will, perhaps, enable virtual reality type of use cases. We are introducing higher reliability that will ensure there are no outages. We will also introduce higher throughput and higher capacity. All these will enable the next killer app and make sure that networks have sufficient potential to meet the demands.
However, the real potential of 5G will be realised in industries.
What has been the progress of 5G technology? Has it gone beyond the testing phase in any part of the world?
As communications rapidly move towards data-heavy applications such as virtual reality and augmented reality, Ericsson has introduced a 5G platform for the needs of the first movers. In fact, Ericsson is the first to market solutions that enable today's networks to evolve smoothly to the next generation.
Ericsson's new 5G platform comprises the 5G core, radio and transport portfolios, together with digital support systems, transformation services and security. Preparing for 5G opportunities represents a huge opportunity for operators.
Ericsson is already working with leading operators around the world on 5G trials. Ericsson, SK Telecom [of South Korea] and BMW Group Korea have broken the world record for 5G speed in a follow-up to the 5G trials announced in November 2016.
On a racetrack in Yeonjong-do, South Korea, a high-performance network connection supported point-to-point data transmission from a car driving up to 170 km an hour while reaching downlink data speed of 3.6 Gbps.
Ericsson and Orange have also demonstrated speeds beyond 10 Gbps in live 5G field trials. For the first time in France, test equipment showed wireless communication with peak rates beyond 10 Gbps.
After the successful completion of 4.5 GHz and 15 GHz spectrum bands on basic 5G trials in Tokyo last year, SoftBank and Ericsson are now proceeding with more advanced tests. The upcoming 5G trial will be conducted in indoor and outdoor trial environments, covering both device mobility and stationary tests.
Ericsson expects that in 2026, there will be a $582 billion market opportunity globally as telecom operators leverage 5G technology. For operators, this represents the potential to add 34 per cent growth in revenues.
Keeping in mind the current financial situation of Indian telecom operators, do you expect delays in 5G rollout here?
From an industry perspective, the main thing is to provide the spectrum. If the economics are there, operators will invest. Governments across the world now consider digitisation, especially cellular connectivity, as the fundamental factor driving global competitiveness.