Monday, October 2, 2023

Building a Future with 5G

Purba Das is senior business journalist with EFY--Vertica Asthana is a technical journalist at EFY

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The abysmal state of healthcare in India can be attributed to lack of adequate number of healthcare experts and specialists in the country. And for a long time now we have been struggling to make healthcare services affordable but without success. With experts betting big on 5G technology to enhance connectivity, we can expect to address this grave issue soon.

Rajan Mathews, director general, Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), says, “The latest iteration of mobile broadband technology, 5G, will bring in new unique network and service capabilities.” “It will be a thousand times faster than 4G and will provide Internet access in areas that have yet not been tapped because of various roadblocks,” he adds.

What went wrong with 4G

At present, India is struggling with 4G technology. 4G technology is supposed to use orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) instead of time-division multiple access (TDMA) in order to minimise interference and cross-talk. According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a 4G network should enable a mobile device to exchange data at 100Mbps as against 3.84Mbps in 3G. The main aim of graduating to 4G from 3G was to offer long-range, high-speed wireless communication.

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Interestingly, of the 2355MHz spectrum auctioned across the seven bands, only 40 per cent was sold with no buyers for 700MHz and 900MHz bands. There are only a handful of companies in 2300MHz, while majority is operating in the 1800MHz band. It should be noted that telecom operators bid selectively to fill gaps in the network coverage and enhance spectrum portfolio, especially for 4G services.

Despite being rolled out by telcos, 4G is still in the nascent stage. So what really went wrong?

Telcos have been doling out 4G despite giving a miss to 3G stage of broadband mobile communications. While this is not completely true, it is worth noting that telcos’ reluctance to invest in the requisite infrastructure for 3G is the prime reason behind 4G’s failure.

The poor and limited coverage even in metros is because the country still doesn’t have adequate number of 3G-enabled towers. According to a report, of the 350,000 towers, only 60,000 are 3G-enabled, which means that the promised speed is not available to everyone. The inconsistency in the speed as well as quality can be attributed to lack of a fibre-optic system which would have supported high bandwidth of the 3G technology—a must for high-bandwidth networks.

To deploy 3G and 4G, telcos have been using microwave links to support the towers. And while 3G network was supposed to offer data speed of 3Mbps to at least 21Mbps, the actual speed was lower than 1Mbps, blurring the line between 2G and 3G. At best, 3G was used to stream audio and videos at an agonisingly low speed.

This explains why 4G failed to take off in India. The jump from 2G to 4G without working on the requisite infrastructure, i.e., fibre-optics base for 3G, did hamper 4G with quality of service and data speed remaining disappointingly low.

However, network providers have now realised that in order to successfully implement the next generation of wireless communication, i.e., 5G, they would need to address this gap. And thus, they have started investing in fibre-optic communications extensively. As per industry experts, currently, India is installing only 15 million kilometres of fibre every year, as against 50 million kilometres of fibre required for efficient and effective implementation of both 3G and 4G services.

Reliance Infotel is setting up its own fibre-optic base for not only inter-city communication but intra-city services as well. Nevertheless, installing the fibre-optic base is not an easy process as it means digging at several places to put fibre ducts across the city. This could be one plausible reason why telcos did not switch to fibre-optics backbone earlier.

5G: Taking it to the next level

The next-generation wireless broadband technology will make the world smarter. From multimedia messaging to video streamlining, from connected vehicles to autonomous driving, from Nano IoT to implantable wearable—every application is expected to move to the next level.

5G is hopping to a new level where innumerable devices can be connected to each other using D2D standard and where security breach is extremely difficult. This D2D technology would be beneficial even when the network is out of range. A wide array of sensors network can be used for home security systems, energy grids and entertainment.

Basically, 5G is 4G technology integrated with Worldwide Wireless Web. Currently, in terms of bandwidth, it offers more than 1Gbps as against 200Mbps offered by 4G.

Communications sector is going to see a massive increase in demand once 5G takes shape. Therefore to supersede the existing technology, 5G needs to lower its bit rate value. While we have discussed data speeds of both 3G and 4G earlier in the article, 5G is expected to be at least ten times faster than 4G, i.e., at least 10Gbps. In order to support such high bit rate, the latency (the time taken to stream a video or any other function) needs to be very low at around one millisecond.



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