Indian telecom industry is laying the ground for 5G technology, and is expected to commercially roll out 5G networks by 2022, said Himanshu Kapania, managing director of Idea Cellular. Speaking to ET’s Danish Khan, Kapania said that along with competition, the industry needs to collaborate to build applications as India moves to 5G from 4G. He added that regulations need to also move with time by moving away from the high-cost spectrum regime if the country is to adopt new technologies. Edited excerpts:
Do you think India is ready for 5G?
For rollout of a new technology, it is not a straightforward step, but it requires multiple stakeholders to be able to carry out the work, including the spectrum. The popular spectrum for 5G is in the 3000 GHz band. There is a lot of work which needs to be done around regulations. Moreover, work needs to be done on security and privacy policies. Then, we have to develop use cases for 5G. Besides being enhanced broadband for consumers, it is going to be significantly going to be launched more massive IoT, which means collaboration with verticals in the automobile, logistics, real estate, smart cities, smart homes and much more, a lot of work needs to be done.
What sort of work is being done to make Indian networks 5G ready?
We are laying the ground for 5G. We obviously expect this is going to take time. In the meantime, a solid 4G network is going to be the critical fallback for future 5G. We expect 5G to be launched worldwide in the developed market by 2020. By 2022, India should be ready for 5G
When it was 2G and 3G, India was at least a decade behind developed markets. When it was 4G, we were at least 4-5 years behind the developed market. In 5G, we are already talking about within 2 years of launch in other parts of the world to bring in 5G.
Which are the new technologies being adopted by Idea Cellular?
Idea Cellular is committed to investing in these technologies like Massive MIMO, Cloud, and Artificial Intelligence, and how consumer experience can improve on virtual reality, augmented reality. These are technologies of future.
Idea has taken baby steps of bringing in virtual networks, software-defined networks. We are in the process of bringing massive MIMO on 4G. India is going to be the second largest market for broadband services. Internet consumers are set to rise from current levels of 200 million on broadband to 500-600 million on broadband over next three years. As more and more companies roll out broadband services on pan India basis.
What are your views on regulations in India?
The regulation has to move with time. We have a legacy of the high-cost spectrum and we have to undo the legacy of the high-cost spectrum if we wish to continue to expand into new technologies.
How do you see the telecom sector growing from here?
Don’t see the telecom sector as an individual operator, rather see it as national assets. The industry has put in 7.5 lakh crore. We have moved from a current level of absolutely low level of penetration of single-digit about a decade back to a current level of almost 90% penetration with 1.2 billion mobile phone users. That has covered most of it as far as voice is concerned.
What are the challenges for telcos around customer service which is a crucial differentiator in a competitive market?
One focus for telecom operators to give the same experience for customers who have transitioned themselves from pure voice connectivity or voice and mobile data connectivity or primarily mobile broadband connectivity. That’s why roll out and expenditure as large Rs 4.5 to 5 lakh crore is going to be spent as we roll out pan India 4G services – not only for internet but for VoLTE.
Can collaboration co-exist with brutal competition in the telecom industry?
Telcos are not just building a pipe but introducing digital services. Baby steps have been taken by all of us, especially in the entertainment space, and now we need to collaborate to build applications which will help education, governance, real estate, beyond the entertainment field to be able to improve and get us into IoT and help the disruption of various industries and allow them to move from their analog form to a digital form.