Are our networks ready for 5G?

by Ankit Agarwal, Global Head – Telecom Products, Sterlite Technologies Ltd.

With the promise of 1ms latency and 1,000 times more capacity than 4G, 5G scores top marks in terms of speed and efficiency. It will have the ability to interwork with different technologies and various types of devices, offering maximum efficiencies. Thus, 5G is set to change the way the telecommunications industry works. With this, the global telecom sector has to ramp up backhaul infrastructure with optical fibre to enable the next level of transformation towards the digital age.

With the official introduction of 5G this year, several leading countries in Asia and Europe have taken the lead in 5G technology by conducting pre-5G tests and improvising network infrastructure. Their governments have also initiated consultations to identify the challenges and opportunities in 5G.

Where does 4G stand today?

Globally, there are already more than 1 billion 4G LTE subscriptions out of the total 7 billion mobile subscription. In India, we have nearly 10 million 4G subscriptions out of 1 billion mobile subscribers as per the data received in December 2015. China has seen rapid expansion of its 4G user base, which has already crossed 380 million in 2015 out of 1.3 billion mobile subscribers. With more and more users adopting 4G, the consumption of high-speed broadband is likely to grow further up and create the demand for future technologies like 5G.

5G trials underway

The market research team at Ericsson expects early adoption of next-generation network technology in Asia and the US to drive rapid growth in 5G subscriptions. As per their estimates, there will be approximately 150 million 5G cellular subs globally by the end of 2021. That is just five years away!

Comparing 5G with previous generations shows that it is not just a new radio-access technology – much more is expected from it. 5G is shaping up to provide cost-effective and sustainable wireless connectivity to billions of things, people, enterprises, applications, and places around the world.

Key requirements of 5G

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Source: Nokia Networks, 5G use cases and requirements

The first 5G network trials are already ongoing on a small scale, and commercial systems are expected in 2020.

When and where will you be able to get a taste of 5G?

  • AT&T to pilot 5G in USA as early as Q2 2016.
  • China Mobile plans to finish the testing of 5G technologies and products in 2017 and conduct trial operations in 2018, with commercial use by 2020.
  • Telstra (Australia) will offer its first taste of 5G at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, in partnership with Ericsson.
  • Japan’s NTT DoCoMo is planning to use 5G technology to broadcast video images and provide other services at venues of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.
  • MegaFon has planned to provide 5G coverage of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia– in partnership with Huawei.

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The essential role of fibre in 5G

In a recent poll by Light Reading, lack of fibre backhaul was the biggest challenge faced by operators in implementing 5G.

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These formidable network performance goals are heavily predicated on 100% connectivity of mobile sites with optic fibre.

2G (Edge) 3G 4G LTE 5G
% of Towers required to be fiberised 2-4% 15-18% 65-75% 100%

Where does India stand in 5G adoption?

In India, voice contributes to 80% of the revenue and 20% is from data. In addition, there have been several challenges specific to the Indian market to upgrade the network quality such as high cost and limited availability of spectrum, lowest average revenue per user globally and very costly, complicated Right of Way (RoW) approval procedure to deploy optic fibre cables.

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With India starting large scale roll-out of 4G, the landscape is expected to change dramatically with the launch of Reliance Jio this year. Reliance has created a pan-Indian, all-IP 4G network with a very significant investment of $20 billion.

Overall India is expected to have close to 230 million 4G connections by 2020, or 17% of total connections.

Nokia has recently initiated discussions with telecom operators for 5G trials in India. The Indian telcos will first want to ensure appropriate return on investment from over $50 billion invested in building 3G and 4G networks.

What lies in the future?

India currently has 15% of its 600,000 towers connected optical fibre, as compared to 65-80% in USA, China, Japan and Korea. To upgrade this connectivity to 100% will require significant investment and commitment from the telecom operators to build future-proof 5G networks.

Given the spectrum and other infrastructure (i.e. mobile towers, active equipment, etc.) required, it is likely that 5G will be launched in India after 2022.

Ankit Agarwal will be speaking on Broadband in India: Opportunities & Challenges at Broadband World Forum next week at London’s ExCel Convention Centre. A limited number of free passes are available, click here and get yours now.

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