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Stepping Up For 5G

While there were many use cases showcased at the launch, a lot of this talk was pointed at the 5G benefits that would be realized for the common man

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5G will be the bedrock and a platform to build technologies and services upon, which were previously impossible

The launch of 5G services on 1 October 2022 happened with much aplomb and fanfare at the India Mobile Congress 2022, New Delhi. The star-studded lineup of keynote speakers at the event including PM Modi, Mukesh Ambani, Sunil Mittal and Kumar Mangalam Birla, had much to say about the promise of 5G during the launch.

While there were many use cases showcased at the launch, a lot of this talk was pointed at the 5G benefits that would be realized for the common man.

However, 5G is much more than just high-speed internet and low latency. In fact, more than anything 5G will be the bedrock and a platform to build technologies and services upon which were previously impossible.  

“5G is actually a platform, which is giving opportunities to many including vendor partners and overall ecosystem, where they can come and start developing their use cases and applications,” says Jagbir Singh, CTO, Vodafone Idea.

According to Ericsson’s 5G for Business 2030 Market Compass, across over 200 use cases, 10 different industries and a set of 5G-enabled use cases clusters, 18 per cent of the total ICT (Information and Communications Technology) addressable industry digitalization value and 47 per cent of the 5G-enabled B2B value can be addressed by service providers.

The report also mentions that the expected industry digitalization revenues for ICT players worldwide across all industries are expected to amount to around a whopping USD 3.8 trillion. The total value of the global addressable 5G-enabled market for service providers across the 10 industries is projected to be USD 700 billion in 2030, beyond mobile broadband.

“5G is not just about providing connectivity, which has been the case with 2G, 3G and 4G. With 5G, you can have B2B and B2C applications and the services, which I would say were not there earlier,” emphasizes Singh.

The transition to 5G will unlock new use cases and revenue streams for enterprises. Many enterprise leaders from a range of industry verticals now view 5G as a key enabler of their enterprise digital transformation processes: a recent survey reveals that nearly a third of the companies asked ranked 5G as the most important technology to support their digital strategy over the next two years. And it is easy to see why. Ultra-reliable low latency communications (URLLC), Massive Machine-Type Communications (mMTC) and Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) are all headline services that underpin support for various verticals, from manufacturing, to logistics, automotive, retail, public services, and energy. Meanwhile India’s services sector, particularly in the areas of healthcare and education, is also expected to benefit from 5G, driven by smart city and smart government applications.

Growing Opportunity In 5G And Ecosystem
In NASSCOM’s 5G-Unfolding India’s Era of Digital Convergence report, it's predicted that India will have more than 500 million 5G users by 2027. And 5G could contribute up to 2 per cent of India’s GDP by 2030, an impact of about USD 180 billion.

Being one of the largest tech companies in the world, IBM is working on bringing together the 5G ecosystem presently. Geeta Gurnani, IBM Technology CTO & Technical Sales Leader, India/South Asia says IBM is investing in partnerships to bring the ecosystem together. These partnerships include major 5G stakeholders such as Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to build the right type of networks, Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) and even Network Access Points (NAP) that play a critical role in the telecom space.

5G is an exponential technology both in the B2B and B2C context, and works brilliantly when combined with other technologies like Hybrid Distributed Cloud and AI. The enablement of services using a combination of technologies will result in massive transformations – both for Enterprises and for retail consumer experience. Furthermore, when the connectivity is used to enable more efficient and productive communication between non-human (machine) end points, the need for automation and diffusion of AI becomes critical. “Since we are a global player, we have seen and done this work with many telcos world over who are a little bit ahead in their 5G journey. Now, we are bringing that whole expertise to India so that we can expedite the whole go-to-market”, says Geeta. Additionally, IBM has invested in labs across the globe, including one in Bengaluru, India, to demonstrate 5G use cases.

But the application of 5G needs a lot of changes in the way telcos work, both in terms of IT and network. Vodafone Idea (Vi) says that it's working in advance to ensure that they have infrastructure capable of delivering 5G use cases and services most effectively.

“For example, the deployment of the cloud is one area where we are ensuring that all the core network is being deployed from the cloud,” shares Vi CTO Jagbir Singh.

The country’s third largest & 11th largest telco in the world is also taking steps towards automation of networks for operations by working with tech players such as IBM. Singh says Vi looks to derive insights on applications and services provided to the customers to continuously improve its offerings via tech too.

“We are working to ensure that the architecture and design of our IT platform are transformed to support 5G and going forward – the new applications and use cases. We are working with a partner like IBM to ensure that we can transform the current IT platform to meet the requirements of the future,” he says.

Just as IT and Compute became pervasive in the decades leading up to now, the troika of 5G, Edge Compute and AI will get to be pervasive in all Verticals, touching all facets of our lives.  Telcos like Vi are at the epicentre of where these technologies come together and with our deep knowledge and wide ecosystem in all these technologies, IBM is poised to support Vi in bringing new attractive services to the Indian market, says Geeta Gurnani, IBM Technology CTO & Technical Sales Leader, India/South Asia.

Leveraging Open-source Tech For 5G
Use cases such as Open RAN, 5G and AI/ML at the edge have meant that telcos are having to upgrade to keep up with the changing times. But these need different types of infrastructures including public cloud, on-prem cloud and even hybrid cloud which brings in new levels of complexity and automation becomes the need of the hour. This has brought open-source platforms into the picture for telcos to deliver LTE and 5G networks.

Vi has been using Red Hat’s open-source expertise for VOLTE in 4G. In fact, Vi was one of the first telcos to deploy Red Hat. Cloud open-source brings with it the possibilities of agility, scalability, flexibility and cost-effectiveness. But in Jagbir Singh’s experience, open-source also brings in challenges associated with complexity.

“We don't have that much skill set available still in the country and even outside. Cloud growth has been very fast. Ensuring that we have the right skill set available is a big challenge,” says Singh.

He also adds that the promise of open-source being ‘cost-effective’ is true but only partially. Singh says the cost-effective aspect is noticeable for core networks. Moreover, he calls for all stakeholders who bring their RAN and software expertise to telcos to work closely and facilitate easy deployment of software on the open-source cloud.

As 5G marches towards touching USD 7 trillion in economic value by 2030 (InterDigital report), open-source will be the quintessential key that will provide telcos the much-needed support via automation and right architecture. The future for open-source in 5G seems bright!

Master Strokes is a series produced by BW Businessworld and Presented by IBM India. This series will present the efforts and accomplishments of technology leaders across sectors on how they use and continue to leverage technology to bring about business transformation creating a positive impact on their organisation.

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