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Our Tryst With 5G

The government’s push for developing smart cities can be realised through the 5G technology

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Our Prime Minister recently launched the 5G services in the country. It has the potential to usher in the Fourth Industrial Revolution and change the economy. It can unlock a broad range of opportunities, including the optimisation of service delivery, decision-making and end-user experience.  

Because of the speeds and capacity of the network it could even become indispensable. The HIS Market in its report published in November 2019 estimates that by 2035, 5G will enable $12.3 trillion of global economic output and support 22 million jobs worldwide.  

Every new technology changes our lives. Some beyond what we can comprehend. In the past, each of the discoveries like the printing press, the internet, electricity, the steam engine, the telegraph all changed our lives. This decade, 5G will change our lives too. Could its pan India roll out on the occasion of 'Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav' that marks the 75th Independence Day be a cause for celebration? That Reliance Jio, a major telecom player in the country, is driving it must be good news, though Vodafone and Airtel are not much behind.  

The Spectrum acquired by various service providers during the DoT’s auction was in the 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 1800 MHz, 3300 MHz and 26 GHz bands. Reliance will probably spend @ Rs 100,000 crore over a period of the next 20 years in its roll out though it could gain much more.

What is special about these frequency bands? These are the low-band, mid-band and mmWave spectrum. 5G wireless technology can deliver high multi-Gbps peak data speeds, ultra-low latency, more reliability, massive network capacity, increased availability, and a more uniform user experience to substantially more users. Qualcomm, an American multinational corporation headquartered in San Diego, California has the singular distinction of inventing many foundational technologies that drive the 5G industry.

Simply put, 5G spectrum is responsible for the speed and quality of the network. Its adoption can reaffirm India’s global leadership in wireless broadband connectivity and can certainly be the accelerator that India’s AI-driven 5+ trillion-dollar economy is looking for. Crucial sectors like education, healthcare, agriculture, manufacturing and e-governance stand to benefit. ‘Atmanirbharata’ could be the winner.  

'What exactly is 5G'? It is the new global wireless standard that will supersede the 1G, 2G, 3G and 4G networks. Industry 4.0 is driven by Internet of things (IoT), which describes physical objects with sensors, processing ability, software, and other technologies that connect and exchange data with other devices and systems over the Internet or other communications networks. That 5G is designed to connect anything and anybody, that includes machines, objects and devices, albeit virtually, will be the engine that industry 4.0 and consequently education 4.0 requires.

The real strength of 5G comes from the Orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing method (OFDM). It is how a digital signal is modulated across several different channels to reduce interference. It is designed to support 100 times increase in traffic capacity with improved network efficiency.  

The biggest advantage is that 5G brings wider bandwidths by expanding the usage of spectrum resources, from sub-3 GHz used in 4G to 100 GHz and beyond. That it operates both in lower bands or sub-6 GHz as well as the higher mmWave or the 24 GHz and up, is the reason for the extreme capacity, multi-Gbps throughput and low latency.

During the 1980’s 1G delivered only analog voice. In early 1990’s, 2G introduced digital voice. In early 2000’s, 3G brought us the mobile data. 4G LTE ushered in the mobile broadband in the 2010’s. 5G, is designed to provide massive connectivity and also expand into new service areas such as mission-critical communications and connect the massive IoT network. It is designed to optimise the spectrum use across bands from below 1 GHz, to mid bands from 1 GHz to 6 GHz, to high bands or the mmWave.  

It has the potential to expand the mobile ecosystem into yet unexplored possibilities. Every industry, be it transportation, remote healthcare, precision agriculture, digitised logistics or any other will be impacted. China, US, Philippines, South Korea, Canada, Spain Italy, Germany, UK, and Saudi Arabia, in that order, lead the current adoption of 5G. It is estimated through a 5G economic study, that 5G will drive $13.1 trillion dollars of global economic output and create $22.8 million new jobs in the 5G value chain that includes OEMs, operators, content creators, app developers and consumers, by the next decade.  

The future of education is Virtual reality (VR) that can increase the student engagement. A Virtual Reality headset has a student-friendly interface, gesture controls, embedded educational resources and simple-to-use teacher controls. It can provide an immersive experience that is not possible in a physical class room. One can use multiplayer cloud gaming as a teaching-learning pedagogy, get real-time video translation and collaboration. However, the bandwidth that is required to do all this is 5G. Our smartphones may be even better in future and may come with their own AR, VR devices. With low latency, health care may see a quantum jump in surgical procedures.  

Remote control of medical procedures may become a reality. There has been a massive video traffic on mobile in recent times, which is a source of media and entertainment. This is expected to grow many times with adoption of 5G. Many new exciting opportunities will be there in future. New cutting-edge user experiences such as boundless extreme reality (XR), seamless IoT capabilities, new enterprise applications, local interactive content and instant cloud access will all be available soon. Our industries may improve quality and precision through establishment of remote smart factories.  

The government’s push for developing smart cities can be realised through the 5G technology. Smart city applications like energy management, traffic management, smart power grid, instant weather update, water resource management, smart lighting of the street, emergency response and crowd management are all doable. Even smart governance is possible.  

A prime research study shows that the mobile data traffic in the country has grown by more than 15 times in the past 5 years (from 0.8EB per month to 13EB per month in 2021) and is expected to more than double in the next 3 years. With the projected traffic increase, service providers would benefit significantly from the efficiency gains provided by 5G.

Is everything so good about 5G? The answer is a no, for it is still very debatable as to how far the Gigabit mobile communication is useful or value adds to a common man’s everyday needs. Our digital divide being what it is, how will the rural folk access 5G and its benefits? On its technology front, it requires more transmission antennas for uniform network coverage than with 4G which means possible enhanced health hazards from mobile radiation.  

Will our current smart phones connect to a 5G network? The answer is again a simple no, though the current SIMS that we use for 4G may work. We will need a 5G phone to use 5G facility. Even new compatible carrier subscriptions will be needed. As the 5G rollout timeline progresses, and 5G technology and compatible devices become more mainstream, new smartphones and appropriate carrier subscriptions will also be available.

For the end user however, will 5G be priced at a premium compared to 4G services, time will tell, though one will get an increase in data and extra bandwidth for innovative services.

Every technology intervention has a flip side. This one too has. Maria Schmidt, a Hungarian historian and a professor, argues that automation and AI will reduce the demand for labour and thus for migration. It not only disadvantages local workers, but also benefits closed and homogeneous societies. She says, it wrecks the public conversation via bots and botnets impersonating real people, spreading viral disinformation and broken news.  

Suppose we move the discourse away from technology and ask a few questions. Do we really need 5G? Are we not being drawn into a make-believe world? Will we lose touch with reality? By becoming slaves of the internet, are we not becoming more stupid? Albeit artificially?

So, in this new age of artificial stupidity, will the technological disruption not turn destructive? Look at all the technological wars being fought. Who are being killed? None of those who created it. None of those who invested in it. Are we not losing ourselves in the midst of technology? Hasn’t reality itself become a victim?

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Dr S S Mantha

Former Chairman AICTE and Adj Prof NIAS, Bangalore.

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