5G TECHNOLOGY AND ITS FRAMEWORK: INDIA’S CURRENT POSITION
Md Maaz Alam, IV year of B.A.,LL.B.(Hons.) from Faculty of Law, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi
According to the white paper report, 5G is the latest iteration of cellular technology that will provide seamless coverage, high data rate, low latency, and highly reliable communications. It mentions in the report that 5G will increase energy efficiency, spectrum efficiency, network efficiency as well as the efficiency of other systems. Besides providing faster & reliable access, it will act as an information duct built to connect billions of Internet of Things devices.[i]
India’s National Digital Communications Policy of 2018 highlights the importance of 5G when it states that the convergence of a cluster of revolutionary technologies including 5G, the cloud, Internet of Things and data analytics, along with a growing start-up community, promise to accelerate and deepen its digital engagement, opening up a new horizon of opportunities.[ii]
A panel on 5G appointed by the government says the technology will extend the use of wireless technologies for the first time across completely new sectors of the economy from industrial to commercial, education, health care, agriculture, finance and social sectors. The panel that was set up by the Department of Telecommunications in September 2017 was told to prepare a roadmap for the rollout of 5G noted in its report that 5G services would have a cumulative economic impact of more than $1 trillion by 2035.[iii]
Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad during a press conference in December 2019 said that the panel submitted its report titled as 'Making India 5G Ready' in August 2018 and based on the report, the Government is creating an enabling framework for the deployment of affordable and secure 5G services for people in the country.[iv] He further stated that the radio spectrum and telecom licenses awarded by the government will be technology-neutral and can facilitate deployment of any network/services and the eligibility criteria for bidders to take part in next auction of the spectrum will be decided by the Government before the auction.
The main recommendation and action plan for the report include spectrum policy; regulatory policy; education and awareness promotion; application and use case labs; participation in international standards; development of application layer standards; and major 5G trials.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has released a white paper on “Enabling 5G in India”, which highlights the specifications of the 5G technology, discusses the potential use cases and architecture of 5G network, deliberates on those areas which will require investments for 5G deployment, covers the spectrum requirements for 5G networks, and tries to identify regulatory challenges which need to be addressed for 5G deployment.[v] It is in consultation with industry stakeholders for enhancing the fibre network.
The White Paper which was issued by TRAI highlights the specifications of the 5G technology, discusses the potential use cases and architecture of 5G network, deliberates those areas that will require investment for 5G deployment, covers the requirements of the spectrum for 5G networks, and tries to identify regulatory challenges that need to be addressed for the deployment of 5G in India.
In February 2020 RS Sharma, Chairman of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India said that the government is planning to hold spectrum auction in April-May of 2020. The auction will also include the radio waves for the 5G services. The Digital Communications Commission has agreed to the reserve price that was recommended by TRAI but it will be placed before the Cabinet for the final approval. He further stated that the new 5G chunk is different from the Rs 5.22 lakh crore spectrum sale plans that were approved by the Digital Communications Commission on 20 December 2019, under which 8,300 MHz of airwaves across 22 circles are set to be put on the block in March-April timeframe.
The government was supposed to auction some 5G spectrum in April 2020, but this has been indefinitely postponed because of the COVID19 and the government had decided instead to auction some additional 4G spectrum this year so that the operators can augment their 4G capacity but even that is hanging fire, and no one knows when will the auction of 5G is going to happen because neither the government nor any other authority has provided any notification regarding the same.
But we need to understand that even if the auctions starts India will have to tackle some very important issues.
Infrastructure gap: India will have to lower its infrastructure gap before the 5G comes into the market.[vi] The Indian optical fibre network is far behind if we compare it with China, Japan and European countries. The broadband speed in India is around 60% lower than the global average.
Capital investment: The investment by the government in digital infrastructure is only around 0.3% of the GDP, which is very low when compared with the benefit it provides. Also, the population of India is quite high then most of the countries, more capital investment is required.
High costs of the rollout: Telecom financing in India and also in Asia are mostly private sector-led. Various schemes have been launched by the governments to give a boost to the telecom and digital industry but the construction and right of way fees in India are very high. Therefore, it makes the Indian markets more complicated as compared to other countries.[vii]
Private sector situation: 5G rollout in India is unprepared because there is a lack of cash flow and profit. In India among the private sectors Reliance is one of main key player but there can be a risk of monopoly if other private sectors do not catch up and make it a fair market and choices available to the public.
India will have to overcome all of the above-mentioned issues and move forward for a better 5G market. The government should provide a level playing policy framework and ensure that there is healthy competition. Recently, we have seen that Facebook has invested in Reliance Jio and many other big names are gearing up to invest for 5G in the Indian market. TRAI needs to take initiative and help bring more players to invest in the Indian market by introducing suitable tariff rates. Private sectors should be given more freedom so that other players come into the market and there is an improvement in the quality.
And as the situation of COVID19 is improving and lockdown getting over the government should take the decision or put out some notification about the auction process of the 5G spectrum.