India is gearing up to implement 5G and there are already a barrage of 5G-ready devices filling the telecom market. Ericsson is all set to help in this effort. We spoke to Nitin Bansal, Head of Ericsson India and Head of Network Solutions Ericsson South East Asia, Oceania & India on the progress and challenges.
Is India 5G ready? When can we expect the first commercial launch in India?
India is currently the world’s second-largest telecommunications market and over the years has continued to register strong growth. With the market witnessing strong mobile broadband penetration, we believe India is ready for 5G and affordable 5G spectrum needs to be made available to the operators. Given the ‘long-term benefits’ that 5G technology will bring to India, it needs to be viewed as critical infrastructure and the foundation on which the Digital India vision can be realized.
From a technology readiness perspective, Ericsson is ready to roll out 5G in India having deployed it across 93+ live networks across the globe. In fact, the Ericsson Radio System hardware has been 5G-ready since 2015 enabling operators to upgrade to 5G with a remote software installation. As India gets ready to embark on its 5G journey, we are committed to working with our customers, partners, and the academic community to design and curate India-specific use-cases and to create the right ecosystem for 5G in India.
From a consumer perspective, there is a high interest for 5G in India and more importantly, they are willing to pay a premium for the new capabilities that 5G brings. Our recent consumer lab study ‘Five ways to a better 5G’ states that at least 40 million smartphone users in India could adopt the 5G technology in the first year of the launch and Indian users are willing to pay as much as 50 percent more for 5G plans, provided they are bundled with new services.
5G launch is linked to the availability of spectrum and in our view 2022 will be the year for 5G introduction in India.
How do you see the deployment of 5G in India? Who will be the early adopters?
Enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) and fixed wireless access (FWA) are expected to be the early use-cases for 5G in India.
From the consumer perspective, 5G ready smartphone users in India already spend more time on enhanced video and multiplayer mobile gaming. As I said, our Consumer Lab study states at least 40 million smartphone users in India could take up 5G in the first year of 5G being made available with consumers even willing to pay 50 percent more for 5G plans with bundled digital services, compared to just 10 percent premium for 5G connectivity. Further, India showed the biggest rise in intention to upgrade with 67% of users expressing an intention to take up 5G once it is available, an increase of 14 percentage points over 2019.
The latest Ericsson Mobility Report reveals that 5G will represent around 26 percent of mobile subscriptions in India at the end of 2026, estimated at about 330 million subscriptions. Like early global trends with the advent of 5G in India, we expect new uses cases to emerge across industries over time, creating more value and ROI for telecom operator’s overtime.
What are the specific early 5G trials use cases we will see in India?
As I said earlier, enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) and fixed wireless access (FWA) are expected to be the early use-cases for 5G in India. These will help address the concern of the limited fixed broadband penetration levels in India and improve the data experience for consumers while on the move. Over time, we expect more enterprise related use cases to come up by leveraging the benefits of 5G in sectors like manufacturing, healthcare, education etc.
In India, we have been working with our operator partners as well as the academic community to test and curate various 5G use cases that are most relevant to the country. Earlier this year, we partnered with Airtel to demonstrate 5G on a live network in Hyderabad city. Leveraging Ericsson’s dynamic spectrum sharing technology, Airtel conducted this trial over its existing liberalized spectrum in the 1800 MHz band. In June this year, we also partnered with Bharti Airtel once again to demonstrate enhanced speeds of over 1 GBPS at a live 5G network that we set up at Cyber Hub in Gurgaon using Bharti’s 3500 Mhz trial spectrum. Most recently, we enabled Airtel to successfully conduct India’s first cloud gaming session in a 5G environment at Manesar
What are the various challenges in deploying 5G in India? How is Ericsson helping Indian operators overcome those challenges?
The 5G roadmap in India is linked with spectrum availability , the investments by service providers & the device ecosystem. Since 5G technology requires a great deal of spectrum, it should be made available at a reasonable price. This will continue to drive investments in network deployments.
Ericsson is a market leader when it comes to live 5G networks. Pioneering customers have chosen us as their 5G partner across the globe and we were the first ones to have deployed commercial live networks across five continents. As of now, we have 145 commercial 5G agreements and 96 live 5G networks globally. We have the right 5G portfolio in place to enable our customers to deploy 5G networks in all main frequency bands and utilize their valuable spectrum assets in the fastest and the most efficient way. This is proven in live networks with the best performance results, so our customers have every opportunity to be ahead with 5G.
Our Radio System Hardware has been 5G-ready since 2015, this will allow operators to upgrade to 5G with a remote software installation. We work closely with all Indian operators and continue to engage with them on their network evolution plans.
What is happening around the world in terms of 5G deployment? What role has Ericsson played in it?
5G networks have been rolled out much quicker than anticipated, and emphasis is given initially on consumer servicing and increasing capacity of the networks. We have been collaborating with leading service providers worldwide, more than 40 universities and technology institutes and 30 industry partners. Today we are powering more than 96 live 5G networks across the globe and have 144 commercial 5G contracts . We have worked on use cases in numerous industries in Europe, Asia as well as in Northern America. All three major communication service providers in the US have already launched commercial 5G services, both for fixed wireless access and mobile. North America ended 2020 with about 4 percent of its mobile subscriptions being 5G. Commercialization is now moving at a rapid pace and by 2026, Ericsson forecasts that 80 percent of North American mobile subscriptions will be 5G, the highest level of any region in the world
In South Korea, a large-scale 5G trial network was used already during the winter Olympic Games in 2018 and communications service providers launched commercial 5G services in the beginning of April 2019.
In 2019 we partnered with SK Telecom, the largest mobile operator in South Korea with nearly 50 percent of the market share, to switch on its commercial 5G network in the world’s fastest growing 5G market. South Korea has been able to add 10 million+ 5G subscribers of the 70 million users in total.
Do you think the Covid-19 has delayed or made any impact on the roll out of 5G in India? Also, how have the mobile operators fared in terms of handling COVID-19 crisis?
COVID-19 has emphasized the need for connectivity and 5G underpins the need for accelerated and seamless experiences for both consumers and enterprises both. There has been considerable growth in data traffic globally and India during the COVID-19 pandemic with the increased number of people working from home. An Ericsson Consumer Study revealed that while the average time spent on mobile broadband increased by one hour globally, in India, it went up by 2.2 hours per day. As opposed to the global trends where consumers are relying on fixed line networks, the Indian consumers are relying more on mobile broadband.
The dramatic changes in human behaviour patterns have caused measurable changes in the usage of both fixed and mobile networks worldwide. With more and more people working from home, traffic patterns on networks are witnessing unprecedented changes leading to traffic shifts from downtown to residential and suburban areas. This underpins the need for 5G services in India.
This added load on networks has led to network re-planning and end-to-end re-dimensioning activities focusing on network design, capacity, performance, and traffic handling, to ensure that customer experience from the network is not compromised. Leveraging AI/ML tools have allowed service providers to act on network bottlenecks and in eliminating incidents and failures. Service providers continue to make necessary changes to respond to the evolving situation with speed and agility as well as invest in the networks to boost capacity to be able to tackle the demand.
With the ever-growing data demand and thrust on digitalisation, it is important for operators to manage the data loads and at the same time ensure the quality of service. 5G technology can help operators optimize the cost per GB by a factor of 10 and also enable them to tap new revenue streams over time.
How do you see the device ecosystem for the deployment of 5G in India? What role will it play in the adoption of 5G?
5G continues to be the fastest adopted mobile generation in history with subscriptions increasing at a rate about a million per day. In accordance with the recent study by Ericsson Consumer Lab called ‘The Future of Urban Reality’, 4 in 5 smartphone users are interested in buying a 5G handset in 2021. Moreover, at present, in India, there are about 22 percent 5G ready devices that can switch to 5G services once 5G is deployed in the country.