The new buzzword of the year 2020 – 5G, is the latest and greatest communication standard in the telecom industry. All the new features 5G is expected to bring have already created immense excitement amongst people worldwide. So what is this 5G? Why should it matter to you as an Indian consumer? When 5g will launch in India? And what are the promises it brings to its users? All these are questions we will be answering in this article one by one, as briefly as possible.
When 5G will launch in India?
Today, the most commonly used technology when we access the internet through mobile data or a SIM card is 4G. Naturally, 5G is the faster and more reliable successor to 4G. The theoretical bandwidth in which 5G operates lies between 450 MHz to 6 GHz (NSA) and 24.25 to 52.6 GHz (SA). What does all that mean? We have explained everything you need to know in the next section.
But first, a little history of communication tech helps you understand how far we have moved forward in just a couple of decades. The introduction of 2G in the early 90s kicked off the age of digital telecommunications. It was fast enough to transmit a few bytes of data at a time or voice data in a two-way call. That speed increased up to a great extent, with the introduction of 3G.
3G allowed for speeds up to 2.5 – 3 Mbps, a fantastic step up from the measly 14 Kbps. This figure increased even further with 3.5G or HSPA, which saw transfer rates in the neighbourhood of 8-12 Mbps, enough for streaming high-quality music or SD video content. However, as smartphones penetrated in the way we lead our daily lives, HSPA speeds soon started falling short of what would be considered convenient. It was time for an upgrade.
The introduction of 4G occurs. It has blazing fast theoretical transfer rates of 100 – 300 Mbps and reduced latency, which all looks excellent on paper. However, the real-world transfer rates for 4G tech never come close to that figure. In India, 4G tops out at 20-21 Mbps, leading us finally to 5G. 5G promises ~100x faster connection speed with latency decreased even further while providing improved reliability. What does that speed look like in numbers? A whopping 10 – 30 Gbps. To know more about the difference, read our blog.
What is NSA, SA, Sub-6, and mmWave?
NSA stands for (Non-Standalone Access 5G), and SA stands for (Standalone Access 5G). NSA operates in a frequency range of 450 MHz to 6GHz, which is almost the same as 4G. So what you end up getting in NSA 5G connection is not really “pure 5G”, but 5G based on a 4G base. Hence it is not 100x faster than 4G, but it is, to some extent, faster than the same while having a slightly improved latency to boot. Sub-6, as the name implies, is quite the same as NSA, or a connection that operates up to 6GHz to transmit data.
SA, on the other hand, is built on a “pure 5G” base and operates in a frequency spectrum of 24.5 to 52.6 GHz. It does offer blazing-fast transfer speeds, about 20 Gbps, according to many estimates whose appeal is even further bolstered by an extremely low latency. However, range quickly starts becoming a severely limiting factor as the frequency of the transmission signal is increased. As a rule of thumb, one might remember that with increasing frequency of the radio wave, its capability to transmit data at blistering speeds increases, but it’s inversely proportional range decreases.
mmWave is a frequency spectrum ranging from 30GHz to 300 GHz, the frequency at which the wavelength of the signal lies between 10 mm and 1 mm. SA uses mmWave technology to transmit information. According to our knowledge, India has, however, opted only to implement NSA or Sub-6 for 5G. Thus, connection speeds will be better than they are now; however, it will certainly not be the “true,” eye-watering 5G speeds, far from it.
What promises does 5G bring to customers?
If you are an Indian citizen, do not expect to see a generation-defining gap in performance, which the shift from 2G to 3G witnessed. However, we expect connection speeds to be more consistent, faster, and more reliable than the existing 4G network. However, the situation at the government side of the deal is complicated, and the coronavirus outbreak has only worked towards worsening it further.
The first step in the method through which telecom companies provide connection is by purchasing a particular wireless frequency spectrum. They would be allowed by the government to broadcast to their customers in the said spectrum. These companies buy these wireless bands at government-organized auctions, where a band is sold more or less to the highest bidder. Reportedly, the price for a 5G –friendly radio frequency band in India is set to start at 50000 crore rupees! Any company, be it Jio, Airtel or Vodafone Idea would have to pay the government 50000 crore rupees to be able to operate in the said wireless frequency band. This price also, unsurprisingly, is the highest in the world.
Moreover, the already-present AGR dues do not include all of this required capital. Some companies (like Vodafone Idea) still need to cough up an amount, pretty much the same value as mentioned earlier. Thus, there is very little reason to expect that plans for 5G data will be as affordable as we have recently become used to purchasing. Simultaneously, Jio still seems to be the only candidate with the highest probability of bringing 5G to the Indian market. Thus, prospects of the same appear to be bleak in a country like India, where people are, on average, relatively less affluent and hence justifiably more price-conscious.
Why should it matter to you as an Indian consumer?
In a word, with the information available at the present moment, it shouldn’t. There are a few reasons for that. Firstly, Sub-6 5G is very similar to the existing 4G networks, with certain 5G specifications built on the platform, as mentioned earlier. Thus connection speed is not expected to show any fantastic improvements. Except for better reliability, slightly better rate, and latency, most things should remain the same. However, we do not think that said improvements would translate to an equally fair price premium. As of the present moment, the information we have seems to point to a much larger price premium for adopting 5G than the actual benefits it would provide.
There are two primary reasons for the same. Firstly, the eye-watering price set for the auctioning of the 5G-friendly radio frequencies, with the coronavirus outbreak going a long way to worsen the situation for every involved party, not to mention the due AGR settlements. If procuring something is expensive for a company, it almost always translates to an exorbitant price of the end product for the consumer as well.
However, all hope might not be lost as a company would have to figure out some way or the other to bring down the prices for 5G plans or risk squandering all that sweet capital. Perhaps the outcome is something time shall answer.
Secondly, your current phone will not support 5G (unless it is one of the few 5G-capable handsets in the market), thus necessitating purchasing a brand-new 5G capable phone or device to make use of the added speed and other benefits. However, 5G enabled phones already charge a significant premium just for the included 5G capability with the chipset, which might be useful sometime in the unknown future. However, everyone has different thresholds for a justifiable price premium, and it is down to their individual choices in the matter.
5g launch in India
Considering the ongoing Coronavirus crisis and all the delays, 5G doesn’t seem to be something we would get a look of before late-2021 or perhaps 2022. If tomorrow is the date for the auction and telecom companies immediately bought all they needed, it would still take the better part of a year for the network to finish testing and expansion to a level where 5G connectivity becomes more or less uniform throughout the country, perhaps even more than. Ericsson, a Swedish network equipment vendor, has mentioned that 5G connectivity in India will not be happening sooner than 2022.