‘Smartphones, operators ready for 5G … now clarity on regulatory side needed’

Unlike 4G, 5G is a completely new technology, which should not be viewed just as extension of the old mobile telephony. Not only that, 5G is also likely to stay relevant for much longer, with 6G coming into play only after this decade, Magnus Ewerbring, chief technology officer for Asia Pacific at Ericsson, told AASHISH ARYAN in an interview. Edited excerpts:

What is the size of opportunity that you see for Ericsson as a company, especially in the Asia Pacific region, where though it is labour intensive, the role of technology can not be denied?

I would expand it a little bit and see what is the potential for the industry. Indeed it is labour intensive, but technology, when it comes in, transforms some of the work opportunities. Some may sadly go away, but it opens up so many more opportunities of other scale. Technology that eases and drives efficiency for all.

We studied ten different segments in the industry sector and we looked at what is the potential beyond the traditional operator business, which is voice and message related.

We believe that $700 billion in additional revenue can be generated for mobile operators in these ten segments. It is almost 30 per cent additional revenue that what they are anticipated to have from traditional segments. So that is only from mobile operators. Then you have other ICT (information and communications technology) players. So then if you include all the companies, you pretty much double that number.

It is a tremendous opportunity on a global basis. For India, that number translates to $17 billion, which is still a significant amount of revenue only for the mobile operators. Then you have the other players here as well. The value to unleash for the enterprises is plenty by driving safety and efficiency.

How are the 5G trials going on? What is the timing that you see for the launch of this new technology?

The concern is that our country is late and I hear that from many countries, and I have heard it for few years now. I think it is very natural as countries do not want to be too late to lose out on the early mover advantage.

The trials we are doing in India have been very good. It shows that the technology is very mature. We did trials with (Bharti) Airtel a few months back, showing for commercial cellphones that you buy in shops, which are already 5G enabled, the download speed is up to 100 mbps and higher speeds up to 10 km from the test site.

Likewise, with Vodafone Idea, enterprise healthcare as an example. India is very ripe and mature to go with 5G. Another key thing is to look at the sales of smartphone devices. If you look at the smartphones being sold in India today, that are 5G capable, it is already the third largest in the world. What that tells me (is) that there are many potential 5G users here as soon as operators turn it on. I think there is a big pent-up demand, and there is a great enterprise demand.

The most important thing needed now is clarity on the regulatory side. It is licensing of spectrum to make it available and to make it available on fair and reasonable terms. What that exactly is has to be determined by each country. There has been discussion on whether the spectrum prices are too costly. And I think many things can be done to ensure that there is money to build coverage for the Indian people. As soon as that happens, 5G will go very quickly. The smartphones are ready, the operators are ready. We need clarity on what frequency bands and other terms and conditions.

How much of a challenge will be for countries like India to catch up with countries that have already rolled out 5G?

For India now, in the foreseeable future, if they make sure that licences come out and operators start working on it, there is a great potential to do well. 5G will be around for a very long time. We at Ericsson believe that by 2027, which is five years down the line, there will be 3.9 billion 5G subscribers, which is 49 per cent of all the subscriptions. In five years’ time, it is a dominant technology. In 2035, that is when we may see 6G.

If we take 2027, for India, we expect 500 million 5G subscriptions. You have half-a-billion smartphones and add IoT (Internet of Things) devices on top of that. So imagine what kind of a platform it is for local innovation. There will be a lot of consumer-oriented apps, enterprise apps, which are local.

A large chunk of the Indian population is still not online, especially in rural areas. The prices of mobile telephony for these users is still on the higher side. How difficult will it be to bring them on 5G?

As a mobile operator, you want your subscribers to be on the highest possible G (generation), because it gives the best user experience and it also the most efficient way to produce the services. There are a number of things that make it difficult, such as cost reasons or preference. As an operator, you have to give them different incentives to go upwards in terms of technology. Mobile operators in India are aware of that and they are trying that. We estimate that by 2027, 1.2 smartphone users will be in India alone, which is a really large chunk. That cannot be 2G, it will either have to be 4G or 5G. We believe that 4G is larger than 5G as of now.

A large number of new subscribers by 2027 will either by 4G or 5G, not lower technologies. By 2030, a large number of 4G users will come to 5G as the price points will go down. There will also be propositions from operators and better services.

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