While India is dreaming of a 5G network by 2020, it needs to reflect on the various key aspects such as un-licensing of E-band, V-band, spectrum management system and infrastructure upgradation. In an interaction with ET’s Tina Gurnaney, Bharat Bhatia, President and CEO of ITU-APT Foundation of India gives a complete overview of the approach India needs to adopt towards the deployment of 5G. Edited excerpts:
How are 5G standards being developed and by when can we expect their completion?
If you see 5G standards are being developed at two fronts, one the ITU is preparing the standards for global launch of 5G, in official terms it’s called IMT2020. The 5G standards standard will be completed by 2020 and then they will be implemented through a body called 3GPP.
We have a detailed plan for development of various requirements, various testing criteria and all the countries will submit their devices and equipments which will then be evaluated in the ITU and then finally ITU in 2020 will decide that this is the approved technology.
The technology for 5G will be approved by Working Party 5D and through the process of ITU and then that technology will become the official 5G technology.
In India we have been behind the curve in 3G and 4G but I think with 5G we are trying to put India as one of the leading players.
ITU-APT Foundation of India has been playing a very key role in bringing India’s requirements into the ITU. We have a very specific requirement which we call as LMLC. This is basically to meet the rural requirements since in India we have large rural areas which are mostly under-served for the broadband. The speeds in these areas are not very high.
While Korea and Japan are thinking in terms of 500 KM or 150 KM per hour speeds for rural areas, we in India think our main requirement is large coverage areas. We have been working with the academia here on 5G, particularly with IIT Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi and the telecom standards body of India and we have put together proposals that are going to ITU on LMLC.
Despite 4G standards being completed and approved in 2007, the roll-out of 4G in India was delayed to a great extent. Would that be the case with 5G too?
Roll out of 4G is happening now but we don’t think roll out of 5G in India will be that much delayed. 5G in India will be rolled out maybe around 2020 or 2021. By 2020 the standards will be ready and a lot of companies are doing pre-work where they’re already launching trials particularly for Olympics in Tokyo and Korea. They’re already coming up with solutions at least on trial basis.
Although in India we’re not doing trials but we’re doing tests in IIT Delhi for 5G, so a lot of work is happening today.
What are ITU’s requirements for 5G?
ITU’s requirement for 5G has three pillars, the first of which is the most important for India and it is called the EM wave. The second is the IoT or M2M communications and the third one is the low latency or emergency communications. Ironically, people don’t talk much about the third pillar which is the most important for India.
What challenge(s) is the industry facing with respect to backhaul for 5G?
One of the most important requirements for 5G is backhaul and without backhaul even if you put the highest gigabit, it’s not going to help. Two things that the operators and the government should do is to first reach the fibre to as many base stations as possible. Another important thing is to is to un-licence the E-band which is a new frequency spectrum that allows more than 1 GB data for backhaul.
Today most of the backhaul is 300 MB which is not enough for even 4G. So what we’re trying to do is that if we get the un-licensing done of E-band, that particular band will allow operators to put in massive backhaul.
It is crucial to have this un-licensed spectrum in E-band which will allow operators to put a low cost, very high, massive broadband connectivity to all the stations.
The government has to do a lot and this is the thing which we have taken up with the government. There is already a body called Nation Frequency Allocation Plan Committee and we have put proposals to un-licence that band, if that happens I think things will move. It’s currently in the process.
Many consumers in India are still seeing as low as 3G or 2G speeds on a 4G network thereby indicating that we have not been able to tap the complete potential of 4G in India. How can we ensure that the full capability of a 5G network is realized in future?
It’s always the thinnest pipe which blocks the whole thing and even if at the last mile if you have 5G of 1GB for instance and your backhaul is limited to 300 MB, then with so many users you’ll be choked and it is happening today also.
Therefore backhaul should be done now, it is not waiting for any standards. 5G is waiting for standards which will happen in few years but everything that we need for a strong backhaul is available today. First, the operators need to rollout the fibre to all base stations which is not so easy but at the same time upgrade their base stations also. The base stations need to connect through backhaul to have speed and the government has to un-licence the E-band and V-band which is very critical for high speed backhaul.
The backhaul can only be done by upgrading the microwave links. First the government has to make the spectrum available which is one of the holding points and once that is done, all the telcos need to upgrade their microwave links since connectivity to the station is very critical.
What are the missing links that we’re dealing with?
In India we do not have a very good spectrum management system. I deal with almost 80 governments around the world and look after spectrum with many countries and a lot of countries have great spectrum management practices but in India we need to upgrade our spectrum management skills.