5G in India, are we there yet?

5G has been a hot topic of discussion this year, with telecom giants Jio and Airtel announcing the plans for 5G in India, awaiting the spectrum auction slated for March 2021 and government approvals. However, the spectrum slated for March 1 this year does not include the desired frequency band for 5G services. As per recent discussions, the 5G network will not require a separate SIM and reports have noted that the transition to 5G will be different from earlier cellular generation shifts. According to Qualcomm, “5G wireless technology is meant to deliver higher multi-Gbps peak data speeds, ultra-low latency, more reliability, massive network capacity, increased availability, and a more uniform user experience to more users.”

In the recent parliamentary panel, headed by Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor, it was highlighted that there would be a delay in the launch of 5G technology. As per the panel report tabled in the Parliament, the government expects 5G services to roll out by early 2022 after another spectrum auction that is planned to be held after six months.The Standing Committee on Information Technology pulled up the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) for the delay in the launch of 5G services when several countries have commercially rolled out the next-generation technology.

According to news agency PTI, the committee has been informed that 5G will roll out in India to some extent for specific uses, by the end of the calendar year 2021 or beginning of 2022, because 4G should continue in India for at least another 5-6 years, the parliamentary panel said.

The panel report questioning the planning and execution also pointed out that 2G was deployed globally in 1991 but was deployed in India in 1995, 3G was deployed globally in 1998 but in India ten years later. 4G services were deployed in India seven years after their global launching in 2008. It’s worth mentioning that India would only witness its deployment at the end of 2021 or early 2022, which will also be partial.

Meanwhile, DoT has informed the parliamentary committee on IT that the 5G technology trial will likely start in two-three months. DoT has received 16 applications for 5G field trials using imported as well as indigenous technology, ET reported. DoT is setting up India-specific 5G use case labs in areas like education, health care, agriculture, public safety, and fintech. Currently, commercial 5G networks currently live in 61 countries, the world over, as per recent data by GSA (Global mobile Suppliers Association). 144 operators have launched commercial 3GPP-compatible 5G services in these countries.

Coming to the industry point of view, companies believe that enhancing the 5G infrastructure should be of national priority and the nation needs to be ready with a robust, scalable, and intelligent infrastructure that is capable of handling massive traffic growth. According to infrastructure companies, the transition to the 5G network has to be brought about to give maximum accessibility to the public through technology, even in carrying out tasks like buying a house or visiting a doctor.

“This shift is creating new security challenges, driving significant traffic increases, consuming more bandwidth, and requires more speed and less latency. For this, a combination of multiple networks, clouds, CDNs, and edge are integrated, exposing new ways for attackers to exploit vulnerabilities,” Dhananjay Ganjoo, MD India and SAARC, F5 noted.

“India presents a unique telecom landscape where a multi-generational transition is evolving. Telecom operators need to provide technology, especially from an app POV, that is compatible with 2G, transitioning to 4G, supporting remote rural applications, and so on. It needs to support a wide spectrum of hybrid technologies ultimately. India’s 5G spend cycles will determine how quickly some of these things happen for the next generation architecture versus the current and prior architecture,” Gaurav Agarwal, Senior Director of Enterprise and Government Sales from VMware India said.

Shashank Agarwal, Managing Director, Salasar Techno Engineering, who believes that the deployment of 5G will require smart towers said that the core idea behind 5G is to minimise latency, so once a machine communicates with another, the consequent action has to be immediate. “The gap between input and execution has to be 0, which is where 5G comes in. A good analogy would be to describe it as a superhighway. You can look at 3G and 4G as a normal highway, in comparison 5G can be seen as the autobahn, the superhighway of Germany without speed limits and lanes enough for plenty of cars. 5G similarly can handle a huge amount of traffic from an array of devices,” Agrawal noted.

5G network vulnerability and security

Dhananjay Ganjoo of F5 believes that service providers will need to protect their network at a massive scale, at every layer, from multiple cyber threats. “Today’s edge solutions are inadequate to protect the SPs from cyber threats. There is a requirement for a new edge paradigm – Edge 2.0. An open-edge platform, software-defined on public clouds, with advanced security, and universal ‘build once, deploy globally’ technology,” he noted.

“The sheer volume and speed of data flow on 5G coupled with the increased number of devices expected on these networks provide threat actors with a greater surface area to launch their attacks. This is becoming a cause of concern for regulators, policymakers, and service providers worldwide. Malicious actors never seem to rest and have always worked remotely. With India’s major telecom providers gearing up to welcome 5G with the right amount of spectrum considering the population density. Securing access to services from the internet edge to the device can be challenging given how more and more devices will be connected,” Amar Madhyan from CommScope notes.

Mandhyan also highlighted the potential of the open RAN ecosystem, which provides a “sustainable, innovative, open, secure, diverse and innovative supply chain for advanced wireless technologies. which will encourage the adoption of next-generation applications and services that enable new business models and revenue streams.”