5G and the next Billion Mobile Users: A View from India

CTN Issue: October 2015

Alan Gatherer, Editor in Chief, ComSoc Technology News

To continue our theme of 5G and social justice, we have left the developed markets of the US and Europe and traveled virtually to India. Our guide is Chaitali Sengupta, a colleague and friend from my days at Texas Instruments. Chaitali developed and sold a telecoms startup in the US before moving back to India to work in telecoms there. She brings many years of experience in the telecom industry to bear on the evolving markets in India and what they need from a new 5G standard. Hope you enjoy it. The comments page is now working  so please go ahead and tell us what you think.

Emerging use cases in evolving markets to drive 5G?

Chaitali Sengupta, Vice President Product Development and Engineering at Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd

Should the mobile eco-system in countries such as India continue to adapt their mobile use cases and deployments, as best as possible, based on available ITU/3GPP/IEEE standards designed primarily for perhaps another part of the world? Or is it time for new 5G standardization efforts to adapt technology to the needs of these evolving markets where the next billion mobile users are expected to come from?

For example, in India, compared to the US and Europe, 3G never really took off due to the chicken-and-egg problem of the market being characteristically very low ARPU (Average Revenue per User) and the difficulty faced by operators to provide good quality 3G services both in terms of data speed and connectivity [1]. While even today, the compulsive social need of staying connected with friends and family, and the real time communication needs of the millions of mom-and-pop businesses are met with a combination of 2G voice calls, SMS-es, the typically Indian innovation of the concept of “missed calls” [7], and low bandwidth mobile internet connectivity primarily for messaging [10].

What has driven a new “G” in the past? A new air interface, new spectrum and bands, leading to a leap in capacity, and new services evolving steadily from the voice and text based world of 2G (still largely seen in countries such as India) to the mobile internet we know today of VoIP, social networking, and video. How about instead, considering emerging use cases and new way of using communications to impact lives in new and different ways? One sincerely hopes that 5G will be about a new way of connecting people and things under a wide range of spectrum [2], regulatory, and commercial challenges and not only about “extremely high definition video services, real time low latency applications and the expanding realm of the Internet of Things (IoT)” [3].

Looking around in India, and aided by some research [5], it is not so hard to hone in on the fact that what needs to be included in standardization efforts such as 5G is efficiently addressing emerging use cases from evolving markets. Use cases that not only provide richer experiences to the existing approximately 4 billion of mobile users worldwide [6], but the ones that will impact the lives of people beyond this current set of users. Taking into account the specifics of the environment e.g. the fragmented spectrum situation in India and its resulting impact on service quality [2].

Already in India, the following technologies: SMS-based communications (in banking, for example), the freedom that ubiquitous wireless (primarily voice) communications and low bandwidth mobile internet connectivity (primarily enabling messaging) have fundamentally changed the way folks here do business,  and interact and communicate socially. India, as a society, is all about inter-connections and staying in touch – I am still amazed at the extent to which my friends and family in India are willing and able to share the minutest details of their lives electronically, whether privately or in groups. So – the first major theme for 5G for a country like India will continue to be about a matrix-like connectivity and sharing. What can this mean for 5G beyond wider coverage and bigger pipes to hold OTT giants of connecting users? It will mean careful prioritization of technologies outlined in [4, 9] with an eye towards both a mix of low bandwidth low cost (perhaps, including device to device or across multiple air interfaces) matrix-like many-to-many connectivity to support the sharing culture described above, as well as enough high bandwidth coverage to support high speed video and services to support uses cases related to content such as sports and Bollywood movies.

The second emerging theme one can pick up on in evolving markets is social welfare related – security, public safety, rural infrastructure which one can see is a focus of [5]. The use cases in this area, especially under the scope of M2M/IoT, are practically limitless ranging from e-governance, monitoring and managing sanitation, to low-cost remote processing and control systems in areas such as public safety and agriculture. The standardization effort and technologies in [4] needs to relate these specific use cases to the design of standards driving future 5G M2M platforms. Emphasis needs to be on air interfaces (multiple may be needed based on specific use case needs of low/high bandwidth, low/high delay) that support location of the end points in challenging radio environments, group communications [8, 9], prioritization of traffic based on a variety of goals both social and commercial, as well as billing systems and flexible and scalable interfaces to these M2M platforms for a range of use cases.

And the final theme goes full circle back to one of the primary tenets of wireless standardization – technologies that will ramp up broadband (mobile) connectivity in a country such as India where broadband penetration is only at ~100million households as opposed to ~1billion mobile users (mostly on 2G and 2G-like use cases). And equally importantly any new deployments will have to come at affordable costs for operators and their vendors, since cost will have to be passed on to consumers in an extremely low ARPU market.


[1] A host of factors is contributing to the death of 3G in India. http://www.businesstoday.in/magazine/trends/factors-that-are-contributing-to-death-of-3g-in-india/story/220551.html

[2] What Indian telecom industry can learn from Europe, US to better serve customers http://telecom.economictimes.indiatimes.com/tele-talk/What-Indian-telecom-industry-can-learn-from-Europe-US-to-better-serve-customers/870

[3] ITU defines vision and roadmap for 5G mobile development. https://www.itu.int/net/pressoffice/press_releases/2015/27.aspx

[4] Future technology trends of terrestrial IMT systems. Report ITU-R M.2320-0.  http://www.itu.int/dms_pub/itu-r/opb/rep/R-REP-M.2320-2014-PDF-E.pdf

[5] TSDSI (Telecommunications Standards Development Society, India). http://www.tsdsi.org/

[6] The mobile economy 2015. GSMA. http://www.gsmamobileeconomy.com/GSMA_Global_Mobile_Economy_Report_2015.pdf

[7] India’s missed call phenomenon. Gigaom Research. https://gigaom.com/2011/12/13/indias-missed-call-mobile-ecosystem-2/

[8] LTE Standards for Public Safety – 3GPP view. http://www.3gpp.org/IMG/pdf/2013_05_3gpp_ccw.pdf

[9] Group Communication System Enablers for LTE. http://www.3gpp.org/DynaReport/23468.htm

[10] How Reliance Jio's Chat app stacks up against WhatsApp http://telecom.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/mvas-apps/how-reliance-jios-chat-app-stacks-up-against-whatsapp/46890244

Editor-in-Chief: Alan Gatherer (alan.gatherer@huawei.com)

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