Network densification, network slicing and virtualisation are the pre-requisites for the successful rollout of 5G
5G can unleash new economic opportunities and societal benefits giving it the potential for being a transformational force for Indian society. It can help the country leapfrog the traditional barriers to development as well as advance the Digital India vision. The cumulative economic impact of 5G on India can reach $1 trillion by 2035 says the recent report released by a high-level Forum on 5G constituted by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT).
It is clear from the observations made that the 5G will have a transformational impact on the economy and society. It is for the same reason that the government had shown the urgency and formed the high-level committee, to look into the modalities of creating a 5G-enabled ecosystem in the future.
The government needs to make significant investments if it wants to realize its goal of launching 5G services in India by 2020. The committee in its report has said that India will make an estimated at $100 billion over the next five-to-seven years to create a nationwide 5G infrastructure.
The government has already set the ball rolling by allocating $31 million to set up a testbed for the trial of 5G use cases and technologies. This testbed would be created in collaborations with India’s premier institutes – Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, Kanpur, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru.
However, it has a long way to go. A GSMA report on Mobile Economy 2018 says 65% of mobile users in India still use the 2G network and by 2025 only 62% would have access to the 4G network. Sadly, it estimates only 1% of the users would be using the 5G network by then. If the government indeed wants to better these estimates, it needs to adopt a different approach to develop an ecosystem supportive of the faster spread of 5G network.
New approach to supportive ecosystem
The 5G technology is said to address many challenges facing the telecom sector today. Apart of high speech and low latency, 5G is likely to offer deep and better coverage, support an increased number of devices and effectively use the scarce radio spectrum and at the same time save on energy consumption.
To achieve these goals and make 5G a success in the future, telecom service providers need a whole new approach in the way they manage the network. The three prerequisites for the successful rollout of 5G are:
Network Densification: For a 5G network to deliver on high speed, low latency and deeper coverage, telecom operators would have to add more cell sites, macro sites and deploy small cells. This strategy is called network densification and is going to define 5G network Since 5G promises to connect billions of things besides people, network densification is an effective way of delivering on that promise.
Network Slicing: To be able to provide an array of different users customized services is another feature that 5G network has promised. The customers can be from entirely different areas and may have very different coverage requirements – speed, allocation or capacity. To service all these customers through the same network requires the network to be sliced in many separate networks each fulfilling the need of one set of specific users, say, for example, a hospital chain or a defence establishment. Network slicing requires the operator to virtually break the network, where each slice works as a separate virtualized network.
Virtualisation: There are many reasons why virtualization has become a primary requirement for 5G network roll-out. For 5G technology to work efficiently, it needs the networks to be flexible, agile and easily scalable. As virtualized networks are software driven, they are cost-effective, easy to deploy and easily upgradable.
A virtualized 2G empowers the service providers to cost effectively meet the need of expanding in remote and newer areas but at the same time prepare the network for the upcoming technologies like 5G. It is the only way to make the network future ready for a country like India where a significant number of users continue to use 2G network. Though telecom operators in the country are warming up to 5G, a vast majority of them are still using the hardware-driven networks.
They would need first to shift their 2G/3G networks to virtual networks to be able to effectively undertake any transition to 4G and 5G without having to spend a fortune creating a new infrastructure for deployment of higher generation technology. Besides this way the telcos move to newer technology only when the market and subscribers are ready.
This is the most cost-effective way of saving cost on the expansion of 2G and 3G networks even as spending on higher generations networks. With virtualized 2G, the transition from 2G to 4G or 5G is easy and doesn’t even require a visit from site engineer.
India’s successful rollout of 5G depends on how quickly and seamlessly it transitions itself from a hardware driven system to a virtualized network system. They should then use the flexibility of a virtualized network to meet the current customer requirement and prepare the networks for 5G services without compromising on the quality of services.