In lucid presentations at the Chennai International Centre, Dr Bhaskar Ramamurthi, Director, IIT-M and Dr Kumar N Sivarajan, Chief Technology Officer, Tejas Networks gave the hope that the 5G technology will be used widely in India in the next couple of years. This will be driven by the consumer so much used to the smartphone! Look at the insights provided.
“When 2G came, technology came first to the wireless. Investment in the network of the system to provide the service was contributed roughly half each by the subscribers and the network: phones were then bought for around $ 150 each. The operator invested roughly around $100 per subscriber. These investments did not change much for 3G when the numbers went up a little bit.
“Today, the phone is a computer; it is a smartphone. One is investing much larger amounts on the phone. This is not done just by the rich. In just around three years, smartphone sales shot up from 0 to 16 crore. During 2019-2020, India assembled 16 crore smartphones and sold them at an average price of Rs 16,000 each. Thus Rs 2.56 lakh crore was spent on purchasing these. This, despite the increase in average price from around Rs 11,000 per phone of the previous year. Also, another 25 crore feature phones assembled in the country have been sold. Total investments in phones last year were $ 50 billion.
“Total investment by the telecom operators in putting up the 4G network over ten years is much less. The electronics parts imported for the base stations and the towers with costs of around $15 billion was invested by all the three operators of 4G.
“With the subscribers changing phones every two years, investments from the subscriber side are much higher than those made by the network operator.
“The operator will invest in 5G only when the subscriber can afford. But there are bright prospects for such spending in several states. In TN, for instance, 4G services are available everywhere (everybody is watching movies all the time!) So, we can see the switch to 5G in a quick time, ” said Ramamurthi.
Dr Kumar N Sivarajan, Chief Technology Officer, Tejas Networks, is even more optimistic: “5G phones are already available in limited geographies. There will be pressure on the Indian operators to offer 5G. My prediction is by 2021 the country will have 5G.
“There is the prospect for two or three telecom operators, each serving 200-300 million subscribers. It will be viable for these to introduce 5G. With the stress on building smart cities across the country, new applications
for smart city facilities would also demand 5G phones,” said Sivarajan.
Introducing the subject and the speakers, Aruna Sundararajan, former Secretary, Department of Telecom and former Chairperson, Telecom Commission, referred to the confluence of several technologies, each extremely powerful on its own coming together, creating a definitive digital revolution: Computing is so powerful today! We are in the quantum computing phase. The convergence of computing and communication, called intelligent connectivity, is going to drive the future, decide the future,” she said.
Start hearing 6G from 2026…
Introducing Dr Bhaskar Ramamurthi, Aruna Sundararajan said that this specialist in spectrum and the pioneer for who set up the test bed for 5G has been responsible for getting Indian standards accepted in the 5G ecosystem.
Listen to Ramamurthi the evolution of the technology; “in the mid-1980s, the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) was launched as a collective effort of engineers and scientists from several countries. The liberal group of experts developed new standards continuously that helped evolve 2G, 3G, 4G and now 5G and these efforts are continuing. Over a decade, 3G and 4G standards were set up for reliable and fast communication from the handsets to towers. The standards are set up in a decadal cycle but keep evolving every few years. Around 2026, one will start hearing about 6G,” he said.
Ramamurthi pointed to the recently introduced Narrow Band Internet of Things: “The NB-IoT will enable connectivity and communication with a much larger number of devices by the smartphone. So, devices in every gadget like a water meter, electricity metre, camera on the street, traffic light, etc. transmit information to the phones on various frequencies. The narrow bandwidth will help penetrate deep into buildings. This development will gain momentum with the introduction of 5G,” he said.
The IIT-M Director pointed to the enormous strides made in the capability of digital integrated semiconductor circuits. This is often described as an IBM mainframe inside a computer or inside a phone! So huge is the computing power of the phone! There are, in fact, two computers inside the phone: one unknown to the user, is doing all heavy lifting to enable high-speed communication. Thus, a huge volume of computing power is readily available at hand. The second computer inside the phone drives all the apps.
Ramamurthi described the vast expansion in the capabilities of semiconductors and bandwidth frequencies: “cellular started with 450 megahertz, then expanded to 800 megahertz further to 1600 megahertz. With 3G, it further expanded to 2 gigahertz. For 5G, it is going to be at 3.3 gigahertz. A completely new band called the millimetre wave band, will surface soon with mind-boggling speeds.
“Till now, these frequencies have been used only in radars and contain satellite communications. In wireless, we have been familiar with signals that go everywhere; the transmission from the tower to one’s phone can be picked up pretty much anywhere in a couple of square kilometres; but limiting its use to just one phone means wastage of enormous capacity. The millimetre wave-technology will address this.
“With the millimetre wave, you cannot go very far. But the transmission can be much faster. So, in future, the millimetre-wave technology can give, over a short distance of around 100 metres, a high 2-gigabit per
second communication to home and small businesses. The last mile wireless fibre will be one of the main applications coming out of 5G. This technology will be at a very, very low cost. One can expect this to be incorporated everywhere, from the refrigerator to the phone. The manufacturer of the equipment would be keen to adopt this technology, as this will help collect rich data about the user, the usage… In return, he may give you something for free! Look at the way personal data is shared with google. So, such devices will be put everywhere. Thus, in 5G, the narrow-band IoT with much higher data speeds for all the applications will be a major advance,” explained Dr Ramamurthi.
The latency factor…
The IIT-M Director also dealt with latency in wireless communications. In transmitting data, there is some delay. In 4G, this is in the order of 10-30 milliseconds. Though it sounds small in transmitting live video chats, this delay is a matter of concern. 5G has the capability to reduce this drastically to just one millisecond. This reduction assumes a lot of importance for applications like communication between cars on highways that have huge potential for avoiding collisions. The auto manufacturer is betting heavily on this technology, said Dr Ramamurthi.
Dr Sivarajan explained the prospects for economising on costs: “in the west, copper cable is going to every home ensuring speeds of 100-megabyte per second. But the demand is for much higher speeds of transmission in gigabytes per second. This can be done through optic fibre cables, but these are much more expensive. The labour cost involved in taking the fibre from the street to the home makes it even more expensive, estimated at around $ 2200 per connection.
“5G providing communication through wireless will make it more attractive.
“This could be facilitated by throwing more spectrum. One can expect the smartphone to have better broadband with a better signal,”said Dr Sivarajan.
‘Outrageous’ predictions on outsourcing
The big users of 5G are going to be not people but machines. Sivarajan provided the example of the fitbit that is presently monitored by the user from his phone. “The mobile operator is still making one connection for the user world. The industry would like the user’s fitbits to have a separate mobile connection to reach someone who would monitor your heart, your blood pressure and other health conditions. A hospital can monitor these conditions if the signals are sent directly and provide the needed services automatically. You may not know your having a heart attack, but the service provider, the hospital, which monitors your conditions constantly, would send an ambulance to pick you up. The change is thus about devices that communicate directly with each other and take care of you remotely.
From Chennai one can drive cars in US highways
The second example related to assist vehicles to drive almost autonomously. Sivarajan pointed to the work on this on US highways. “The first application for autonomous driving could be on an autonomous driving lane where a car can move at 400 miles/hour. It can be driven by low latency remote controls by drivers sitting elsewhere. We could drive autonomous cars in the US sitting in India, another outsourcing industry in the making! India has trained drivers with skills for driving in all conditions. So, they can drive elsewhere efficiently. It takes about 150 milliseconds to communicate. This is enough because the reaction time needed for averting a collision is 200 milliseconds.
Can do farming in Africa from India
There is the prospect of doing agriculture remotely. There are too many farmers with too little land in India. Africa has plenty of land, but not many farmers. You can do remote farming, making use of sensors to control irrigation, monitor the crop… There is thus the prospect for the remote agriculture industry.
Swiggy can deliver through drones
Cooking is fast becoming outdated. The kitchen room is becoming obsolete. Food is delivered by Uber,
Swiggy… Good, but it is a very inefficient way to deliver food, riding a bike through crowded streets. The same can be delivered by drones. It is very cost-effective for a drone to take a ½ kg parcel and deliver it to your home from the nearest restaurant. The infrastructure can be created, a lane in the middle of the street only for drones.
Did you think three years ago that vehicle drivers would navigate using Google maps and drop you accurately at the destination without even knowing the city? Today, every car with the driver has two smartphone connections – one for the driver to watch the video and another to navigate the car! We didn’t think these things would happen. – Dr N Sivarajan
Serendipity all along
The revolutionary application of 2G was SMS. This was not even conceived in the original standard; it was meant to be some channel for maintenance purposes. It became the messaging. It changed the way we didn’t originally plan. The new generation seems not so much wanting to talk as to messaging!
3G was expected to bring some browsing the web and posting web pages. But we found the biggest application of 3G was email. Blackberry became a multi-billion-dollar company.
Around 2007, 4G was supposed to be IP multimedia. But the smartphone changed all this. 4G became not just about video, but the whole range of social media. Nobody envisaged social media when 4G standards were designed.
Today designing 5G standards, we have little clue on how to use low latency. In today’s context, all we think of is to drive a car better or make the video better. But the low latency will throw up new applications. Massive machine-to-machine communication and IoT are thought of. But nothing more. We are unable to think yet. We should let loose and ask some science fiction guys to think of the possible applications – Dr Kumar N Sivarajan.
China leapfrogs into 5G
China has 1.17 billion mobile users, most of these smartphones and 829 million internet users. The county has massive plans to switch to 5G technology. Significantly, the China-India dialogue issue deals with the way 5G will change the world, powering the IoT: “the importance of 5G is not only its faster speed, more efficient energy consumption and lower latency, but also the facilitation of the Internet of Everything. Unprecedented wide-ranging functionality is the heart of 5G,” says Xiang Ligang, an academic and an expert in telecom and mobile internet.
China and India account for a third of the world’s internet users – China accounting for 19 per cent and India 13 per cent.
China is likely to be the first nation to launch a 5G telecommunications network at scale and it is playing a significant role in setting the global standard. This reflects the fact that China holds 10 per cent of the patents for 5G technologies, which is a much higher share than was the case with 3G or 4G at a comparable stage in their development. Eventually, China may have 30 per cent of global 5G-related patents according to one estimate.
Even while China and several European countries and the US are fiercely involved in entering the 5G technology, India has not fully established even 4G. Massive investments are required to strengthen the telecom infrastructure to leapfrog into new technologies in a quick time. – V Durga
Big advances in assembling phones
We do not make electronic components. We are not part of the global value chains for wireless mobile technology. The value added by the assembly is 6 to 8 per cent.
By March, phones bought would all be assembled in the country. Some of the supply chains for components like resistors, capacitors… will move here. Next semiconductors and packaging of wafers will have to move here. This is very easy and will call for an investment of around Rs 1500 crore. Then only we can talk of FABS. We are now going in the right direction.
China is now trying to aim a 25 to 50-per cent value addition. Intellectual property and more sophisticated products and processors are still done in the west. This calls for participation in higher forums. After trying for 12 years, we have started going to these in small teams, thanks to the ability to contribute to emerging ideas.
We should also have a strong manufacturing ecosystem. Mere ownership of patents won’t do. In addition to patents, we should have the capability and power to manufacture. – Dr Bhaskar Ramamurthi
The challenges of security…
There is no lovely, little, walled garden where everything is safe. But there are challenges on the issue of security.
With all narrowband IoT, devices enable you to work on developments in every corner. The systems are fully networked and connected to the global internet. So potentially, somebody sitting anywhere can access whatever it takes to take control of a particular network, a particular device, or a particular activity. All it requires is AI and algorithms; we don’t need a human being to do this.
So the problem is vulnerability. There is no simple way of certifying security. It is all software, even chips with malware. It is not possible to protect through test labs.
Inherently security comes from procuring from a trusted source, like an Indian company governed by Indian laws.
If I am part of a value chain, my equipment being vital for someone else, mutual respect will come. We need to have competitive global scale Indian companies with well-integrated value chains. Then we must be able to command trust and mutual respect. Dr Bhaskar Ramamurthi.