Mains Article

5G Rollout [Mains Article]

A balanced assessment of 5G potential applications and demand must be made before rolling it out. Also, creating a 5G ecosystem is challenging in the country.
By IT's Mains Articles Team
February 29, 2020


  •  Introduction
  •  What is 5G?
  •  But, what are these (low, mid, high) bands of 5G?
  •  Difference between 4G and 5G
  • How does a 5G network works?
  • All G’s network
  • Problem with the 5G zeal in India
  • Why such haste for rolling out 5G?
  • Challenges in developing 5G networks
  • 5G and its impact on Indian Market
  • Conclusion

5G Rollout

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5G in India continues to be promoted with zeal citing many wonderful applications that will be enabled by it such as faster phones, easier access to on-demand video and simpler networking.

What is 5G?

  • 5G is the fifth generation wireless technology for digital mobile networks that began wide deployment in 2019.
  • The frequency spectrum of 5G is divided into millimeter waves, mid-band and low-band. It means 5G can run on any frequency, leading to three very different kinds of 5G experiences—low, middle, and high.
  • 5G millimeter wave is the fastest, with actual speeds often being 1–2 Giga bit per second down.
  • 5G brings three new aspects to the table: bigger channels (to speed up data), lower latency (to be more responsive), and the ability to connect a lot more devices at once (for sensors and smart devices).

But, what are these (low, mid, high) bands of 5G?

The 5G speeds are directly related to how wide the available channels are and how many are available. And that is narrow and few in low-band; more in mid-band and lots in high-band.

Low-band 5G

  • Low band 5G operates in frequencies below 1GHz.
  • These are the oldest cellular and TV frequencies.
  • They go great distances, but there aren’t very wide channels available, and many of those channels are being used for 4G.

Mid-band 5G

  • It is in the 1-10GHz range.
  • That covers most current cellular and Wi-Fi frequencies, as well as frequencies slightly above those.
  • These networks have decent range from their towers—often about half a mile—so in most other countries, these are the workhorse networks carrying most 5G traffic.

High-band 5G

  • High band 5G, or MILLIMETER-WAVE, is the really new stuff.
  • So far, this is mostly airwaves in the 20-100GHz range.
  • These airwaves haven’t been used for consumer applications before.
  • They’re very short range of about 800-foot distances from towers.
  • But there’s vast amounts of unused spectrum up there, which means very fast speeds using up to 800MHz at a time.
  • Millimeter-wave signals also drop off faster with distance than lower-frequency signals do.

Difference between 4G and 5G

*Network latency refers to the time required for a packet of data to travel round trip between two points. As a general rule, the lower the network latency, the better the user experience.

* Spectrum refers to a range of radio-waves that are used for communication purposes. These are governed by government. Spectrum is frequency – that’s the number of repetitions of the wave in a second. The low frequency waves repeat slowly and vice versa. The spectrum gets divided into bands by the government. Telecom spectrum starts from 800MHz, and goes up to 2300MHz.

How does a 5G network works?

  • 5G networks use a system of cell sites that divide their territory into sectors and send encoded data through radio waves.
  • Each cell site must be connected to a network backbone, whether through a wired or wireless backhaul connection.
  • 5G networks use a type of encoding called OFDM, which is similar to the encoding that 4G LTE uses.
  • The air interface is designed for much lower latency and greater flexibility than LTE, though.

All G’s network

  • 1G was analog cellular.
  • 2G technologies, such as CDMA, GSM, and TDMA, were the first generation of digital cellular technologies.
  • 3G technologies, such as EVDO, HSPA, and UMTS, brought speeds from 200kbps to a few megabits per second.
  • 4G technologies, such as WiMAX and LTE, were the next incompatible leap forward, and they are now scaling up to hundreds of megabits and even gigabit-level speeds.

Problem with the 5G zeal in India

  • Indian telecom companies are continuing to put elaborate plans in place to set a price and auction spectrum (airwaves) this year for 5G.
  • This despite the fact that the current 4G networks power the latest iPhone and Android smartphones and they’re increasingly integrated into cars, or we use them for video downloads or stream our daily dose of Netflix on our mobiles.
  • Therefore, it is a matter of question about the relevance of current technology.

Why such haste for rolling out 5G?

  • The haste on 5G is in some ways unexplainable, given that India’s telcos are suffering from huge debt and their financial outlook remains bleak.
  • On a quarterly basis, revenues have been declining on a year-on-year basis since the end of 2016.
  • Total mobile revenues in India have fallen by more than 20 per cent over the period and ARPU (average revenue per user) levels have fallen significantly in recent years, despite strong data volume growth, to levels that are likely to prove unsustainable.
  • Curiously, the growth in subscribers over the same period has been exponential. This clearly suggests that Indian consumers are only willing to pay for faster mobile broadband up to a point.

Challenges in developing 5G networks

  • Merely eight countries in the world have over 80 per cent 4G penetration currently.
  • Even the technologically advanced countries like Israel are refusing to implement 5G on account of unknown challenges such as potential health hazards of tens of thousands of radiating base stations.
  • Another major challenge is standardizing an approach and bringing all of the major technology partners on board. Fragmentation of next generation approaches will only mean that development time and costs will increase.
  • As it stands today, 5G is not a defined standard it is rather a set of ideas.
  • KPMG in its report, released at the Indian Mobile Congress 2019, predicts the cumulative impact of 5G in India at $1 trillion by 2035.
  • But these predictions need a reality check using two critical components: ‘
  • Viable use cases/applications or the capacity to pay for such services and
  • Infrastructure (capacity to support such high-end applications end to end).

5G and its impact on Indian Market

Pricing issues in India

  • 5G smartphone models are likely to cost much more than the most advanced 4G devices currently available — with enhanced features, additional cameras and sensors to support AR and VR applications.
  • These handsets will also need to support multiple spectrum bands as well as 4G and 5G in the same form factor.

According to the KPMG report:

  • Over 31 per cent of Indian businesses do not even have a roadmap for a digital strategy.
  • There are the pricing issues in the mass market. For example, in the case of 4G substantiates, there was an explosion in data usage after Jio launched free introductory offers at ₹10/gb/month compared to prevailing rates of ₹200/gb/ month.
  • Everyone celebrated but this was not sustainable as evident by the data usage decline when the inevitable price hikes kicked in.

Decline in data usage

  • The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has validated the correlation between broadband price and adoption levels. A 1 per cent increase in mobile broadband prices results in 0.13 per cent decrease in adoption rates (low income).
  • And a 1 per cent decrease in mobile broadband adoption results in 0.19 per cent decrease in GDP per capita (low income).
  • Thus price increases of 30-50 per cent can lead to a decline in broadband adoption by 3.9-6.5 per cent, leading to a decline of GDP per capita by 0.7-1.2 per cent.
  • A significant number (close to 300 million) of users are still on 2G/2.5G networks — and feature phones are widely in use. Device cost is of relevance to a price-sensitive market such as ours.

Low demand of Spectrum

  • The auction of the proposed 5G spectrum bands (limited to only some frequencies) is a cause for concern.
  • The Department of Telecommunication (DoT), the primary beneficiary of these auctions, has expressed this fear in its letter to TRAI — “the demand for spectrum is likely to be subdued while seeking TRAI inputs on pricing and process.
  • We must learn from the lessons of 2G, 3G and 4G auctions, which seem to have created a permanent state of crisis in the sector.


The current hype about 5G’s possible future needs to be replaced by a more balanced and practical view of its potential applications over the next decade. Realistic and gradual expansion up the value chain is needed. In this scheme of things, more mature policy making in telecom sector is expected.

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