BENGALURU — Bengaluru: After 5G deployment plans announced by its Asian peers, Korea, China, it is now India’s turn to deploy this technology in the next four years according to a Bloomberg news report.

“We are not there yet,” Telecom Secretary Aruna Sundararajan said in New Delhi, adding that complete roll-out of 5G will be done by 2022. “5G won’t be driven by supply, it’ll be driven by demand and the rest of industry needs to wake up to this.”

The South Asian nation, traditionally a laggard while embracing latest technology in telecommunications, will follow South Korea, Japan and China where 5G service will be offered within the next two years.

The 5th-generation wireless system enables higher speed mobile broadband, mission-critical services and a massive Internet of Things (IoT) deployment.

This high-speed and low latency service will help Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Digital India plan, which seeks to broaden Internet access, and the Smart Cities initiative, the report said.

“If we want smart cities, clearly we need smart infrastructure for it,” Sundararajan said, adding some early stage projects may start rolling out as early as 2020.

In September last year, Indian government had constituted a high-level forum on 5G comprising three secretaries of departments of telecom, IT, and science & technology, apart from renowned academic experts and stakeholders from the industry.

This panel set up by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) was entrusted with the task of coming out with a roadmap for adoption of fifth generation of mobile telephony, including spectrum policy, regulatory regime and pilot programmes in India by June this year and had said that the rollout would be by the year 2020 in keeping with the other Asian nations that are planning to roll out 5G services.

But that has been delayed by another couple of years.

Delay in roll out could be an advantage for India

A slight delay, however, might actually be beneficial for India, according to Sanford C. Bernstein’s Hong Kong-based analyst Christopher Lane, who expects South Korea to launch these services by March 2019, Japan in late 2019 and China, along with most western major cities, in 2020.

“India needs China to launch to drive economies of scale and lower cost 5G handsets. I think 2022 or later is appropriate for India,” Lane said.

South Korea, which recently tested its 5G technology during the Winter Olympics in February with self-driving cars, virtual reality games and a motion-detection system to ward off menacing wild boars, is planning an airwaves auction to commercially deploy 5G wireless services.

Japanese firms are gearing up, as are the U.S. carriers. Italy is targeting a September auction of spectrum that could be used for 5G while the U.K. sold bandwidth in April that included some earmarked for these services. The Hong Kong government is even considering giving airwaves away for free.

Fiber Network

As part of the roll-out, India is aiming to increase its fiber backbone to 2.5 million kilometers (1.6 million miles) by 2022 from 1.5 million kilometers right now.

A denser fiber network will aid operators gear up for speedier content-heavy 5G services and move away from discount-led battle for market share underway after upstart Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd. debuted with 4G services and offered free voice calls in 2016.

“A robust optic fiber network is also very important, both for front haul and the back haul,” said Anthea Lai, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst in Hong Kong. “The more fiber the better it is for 5G services.” So far, telecom infrastructure has got second place to physical infrastructure as Asian nation struggled to beef up its roads, ports and airports.

“Digital infrastructure is invisible infrastructure. Just because it’s invisible, people are not willing to spend on it and promote it,” said Sundararajan. “And that needs to change,” she added.

— Sufia Tippu is a freelance tech journalist based in India contributing to EE Times India