At a time when China has already installed over 130K 5G base stations and has shipped 13.77 Mn 5G smartphones, India is yet to act on its plan to allocate 5G spectrum and build an infrastructure around 5G.
With an aim to develop a globally competitive product development & manufacturing ecosystem targeting 50% of the 5G market in India and 10% of the global 5G market over the next five to seven years, the Indian government in September 2017 had constituted a steering committee to devise a future plan in this regard.
Recognising the 5G potential in India, the steering committee in its report, ‘Making India 5G Ready’ in August 2018, recommended that three expert committees on business, security and safety segments be created to develop clear guidelines on the regulatory policy that can be promulgated by the government. Currently, the Indian government is locked in a tussle with the global telecom standards body over adapting the global 5G standard to include certain exceptions for India’s specific market needs.
Meanwhile, mobile chipmaker Qualcomm has already come out with a slew of 5G-enabled chip series for premium, mid-budget segment markets. The company has been working closely with Reliance Jio, Amazon and Flipkart while exploring the 5G market in India. Qualcomm was also a major contributor behind Reliance Jio 4G LTE network.
On the sidelines of VLSID Conference 2020, Inc42 spoke to Baaziz Achour, SVP engineering, Qualcomm on 5G, its adoption challenges and best use cases.
Inc42: How is 5G going to change the market equation? What are the top use-cases that will drive the market?
Baaziz Achour: I think one of the big attributes of 5G is the low latency and high reliability. Low latency is a big deal as it enables all kinds of interesting use cases such as gaming which is fast becoming very popular on mobile devices. This will enable multi-user gaming experience. 5G will also fuel industrial IoT in factories. 5G will enable faster response in controlling machines which are currently controlled through ethernet cables. Replacing cables with 5G wireless communication will reduce communication delays to single-digit millisecond.
Thus, the low latency will enable a lot of interesting use-cases that are simply not possible in 4G. Innovative minds across the world will come up with more and more ideas based on low latency.
The other interesting thing is also the availability of wider bandwidth. The higher bands will also provide interesting use cases as the wider bandwidth helps move a lot of videos, a lot of data.
With such capabilities, many more innovations will emerge which we haven’t thought yet. As the technology matures, we will see all kinds of interesting use-cases and we are preparing for that.
Inc42: Can we see market-centric features too?
Baaziz Achour: Honestly, even in the previous technologies, 80% to 90% of the feature set is common across all markets. However, infra-vendors when launching in a country like Indonesia or India, they might come up with a new set of features that are specific to the market.
Massive MIMO happens to be a very sexy feature. It provides high capacity, high throughput; that’s something we support.
Actually, every market while adopting the standard, building the infrastructure drives a whole lot of features. While we keep hearing about the marquee features, like massive MIMO, there are thousands of other features which hardly get highlighted.
For the last three years, we have been working with vendors, in order to help develop new features.
Inc42: What role is Qualcomm playing in building 5G infrastructure in India?
Baaziz Achour: Qualcomm works with all different vendors. It’s a two-way street, a handshake between a device and a base station. So, we have to work with the base station vendors to ensure multi-vendor interoperability. There is interoperability testing to make sure that technologies are understood the same way from both ends. We work with everyone including Huawei in China, ZTE, Samsung, Ericsson and Nokia.
As far as Indian market is concerned, we don’t specifically work with the infra-vendors for India, however, if the infra-vendors that cater to Indian market and need to have any specific feature for Indian market, we obviously would work with them and make sure those features are tested and work optimally, delivering the performance and meeting specs. That’s how we work with infra-vendors. While building the infrastructure is their business, we make sure that the technology works.
Inc42: While countries like China, the US have already deployed 5G in parts, where do you find India in the race?
Baaziz Achour: Different markets move at different speeds, and they have different needs. Typically the way it starts is when the government decides to auction spectrum for that new technology. My understanding is that in India, the auction of 5G spectrum hasn’t happened yet. While the government is working on it, other countries are moving faster. But at the same time, India has a choice to even use existing spectrum that’s used for LTE today.
There is a technology called DSS (dynamic spectrum sharing), where you could basically deploy 5G in the current frequencies that LTE is using without interfering with the LTE users.
So, it can in a way allow you to slowly and gracefully introduce 5G without having to have a lot of spectrum available. You can just use the existing spectrum to which is mostly in the lower bands to give you better coverage. That’s one way to start. For the better infrastructure in future, you can obviously assign a brand new spectrum and apply technology in that in that band which is happening in some parts of the world like in China and then the US. They are allocating 28GHz and 39GHz frequencies to deploy technology in the brand new spectrum, there’s no incumbent technology in them. So, definitely different countries have different priorities. And usually, the process starts by the country deciding to allocate spectrum or at least have a policy for how the technology will be deployed.
Inc42: With their 5G chipsets, Samsung, Mediatek have also emerged as Qualcomm’s top rivals, how do you look at the emerging competition in the 5G market?
Baaziz Achour: It’s good to have multiple, multiple sources of technology because that creates a vibrant ecosystem. So at Qualcomm, obviously we respect our competition. We’re working very hard to do better than them. But at the same time, it’s very important to have multiple players in the market because that’s how you have a vibrant economy and a vibrant ecosystem. We are working hard to stay ahead of the competition.
Inc42: Which are the 5G chipsets that Qualcomm has already launched or planning to launch for India market?
Baaziz Achour: We have different tiers of chipsets, each of which has its own set of features and caters to different market segments. We have already launched 5G support for premium, 700-tier, and are aggressively trying to bring the technology down in all the tiers so that all markets will benefit from 5G. This is something we have not done in the past but this time, we have decided to go full speed and bring the technology in the lower tiers as well. We had launched a few 5G products back in December and more are in pipeline. We are definitely more aggressive in driving, lowering the cost of 5G but also allowing 5G to be available on all tiers. At the same time, I’d like to add to that we’re also investing in LTE. Also, producing new products that are based on LTE. The LTE optimisation will not only bring in new features but would reduce the cost as well.