The 5G Technology : A break in the growth pattern of countries is a function of industrial revolutions aided by new technologies. Industrial Revolutions (IR) 1.0 and 2.0 were based on manufacturing technologies, while IR 3.0 was a communication revolution. Fourth Industrial Revolution (IR 4.0) operated on the same medium as 3.0, fixed line and wireless in a globalised and interconnected world. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is a fusion of advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), genetic engineering, quantum computing, and more.
Mobile technology was introduced in India in 1995 with enabling legislation, regulations and sale of spectrum. Then till 2003, the sector suffered major litigation and only grew to 10 million by 2003. The Regulator sorted out major issues in 2003, and the sector grew to 100 million, 10 times by 2007, and to +1000 Million almost 100 times of 2003 by 2012. On the world rankings, India became number 2 mobile nation from 122. In India one of the major issues was better utilisation of spectrum, earlier also allotted to fixed services, and many other regulatory and spectrum issues. These could be sorted out by the Regulator and Government with difficulty, but led to a huge growth thereafter.
Now we have to cross another major hurdle a subset of third and fourth industrial revolution, the 5G communication technology. Unless we prepare well, there would be another round of slow implementation, protracted litigation/enquiry round like in 2G and 3G.
This paper explains.
- The IR 3.0 revolution turned the world on its head.IR 4.0 continues to do the same.
- For the first time after 1950-70, the underdeveloped Asian countries had more growth than the technically savvy West, courtesy the communication revolution in a digitally interconnected globalised world, particularly in China where the US set aside the ideological differences and gave new technologies, allowed IP thefts, circumvented and breached WTO rules and allowed Tiananmen massacre to help Chinese miraculous growth.
- Earlier Gordon G. Chang and many others had predicted China’s collapse in 2001 and 2012. But China flourished courtesy the US’ unprincipled help. Now in 2020, Chang predicts China or the US will flourish depending on the performance of 5G.Everyone believes these networks will run the world and its increasing networked mobile/static industries and services very efficiently.
- Today, China’s 5G networks are the most advanced in the world, and unless India is enabled to challenge them like the US did to China, post 1980, for 2G etc. networks, they will continue to grow. According to CCS Insights, China will account for more than half of all 5G users by 2022. China is also expected to dominate through 2025, at which time it might represent 40 percent of global 5G connections, according to the GSMA.
- Indians were ahead during many periods in the digital and mobile technologies, till of course, regulations and crony capitalism blocked growth. In its rReport titled ï¿½Making India 5G Ready’ in August, 2018 Inter-Ministerial High Level Forum for 5G (Paulraj Committee), India anticipated the start of 5G in 2020. Based on the Report, the Government is creating an enabling framework for development of 5G services in India. Progress is slow as many new developments have taken place and the 5G services and industries are expected to be introduced gradually and advance to a full range of services as ecosystem, and demand for services grows. The ITU and the World Bank have also finalized a draft program/regulation/law for this purpose, where they were at the third draft stage in 2020. We must expedite finalise these by taking advance action, and dealing with India’s peculiar problems, like we did in 2G time.
- With the increasing prevalence of digital services along with manufacturing industries, regulators are finding that they must address a host of new issues and potentially new areas of responsibility. Many of these focus on online services, such as online Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) or online video, and other digital platforms, as well as navigating the IoT, AI, data privacy, competition, cybersecurity, and other technological challenges.
- Shared access regimes are a way for regulators to open spectrum that is currently used by incumbent services to new users. Licence-exempt spectrum bands have proven to be fertile ground for innovation, as evidenced by the importance of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technologies in enabling new applications. We have not moved beyond the concept of UASL, and apply ourselves afresh for new services/applications. We should consider moving forward to USL.
- Finally, regulators should conduct a review of international best practices in terms of spectrum licenses. This includes adhering to international and regional frequency allocation decisions, and worldwide technical standards, maximising harmonisation etc. This supports lowering the costs of equipment, and effectively enablesroaming.
- General authorisation is to be preferred and fees should be negligible, set to cover administrative costs only, so as not to deter investment and innovation but also to enhance affordability for consumers. Once the networks and the connected traffic grows, the fee can increase.
- Where individual facilities-based licences are issued, the number of licences should be limited to avoid unnecessary duplication of investment, but they should be subject to conditions that provide for open access to key infrastructure on fair and reasonable terms so as to create a healthy, competitive services market. Licensees should also be allowed to share infrastructure and to merge, subject only to competition policy considerations
- Any application based on the technologies is subject to horizontal regulation by agencies responsible for consumer protection, data protection, competition, cybercrime, and so on. Whether or not ICT sector-specific regulatory oversight is warranted depends on the functionalities of the applications and how they are used in a sector. The priority must be to have a robust horizontal regulatory ecosystem in place. This may require updating laws and establishing new agencies.
- Given the cross-border nature of the Internet value chain, in particular of online services, collaboration and harmonisation across jurisdictions is key to facilitate the digitization of economies and societies and the benefit of economic growth and social development that this brings. Traditional ex-ante regulation based on market definition, dominance, and determination of remedies will continue to be important specifically for the regulation of network infrastructure access.
- More generally, there will be refocusing of competition regulation with a transition to ex-post symmetrical regulation (the same rules applied to all suppliers) with regulatory intervention targeted at specific cases of competitive harm, and with high levels of cross-sectoral regulatory cooperation.
- The traditional focus on SMP-based regulation was intended to enable others to compete fairly but digital platforms, access networks, and even entire national broadband networks, may now sometimes be best delivered as virtual monopolies. Even where competition exists it is increasingly hard to define markets, determine thresholds for SMP, and determine and apply appropriate remedies.Symmetrical regulation will be based on broad regulatory principles such as fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory access to resources. For former post regulation to be effective, countries need to establish and adequately resource separate competition authorities.
- There are far more regulatory issues/areas in 5G, and also in content being transmitted. The rules for these should be finalized now rather than wait for other regulations to be finalised, and also whether more than one agency should be integrated. This worked well for 2G networks. ITU-WB regulation leaves many issues behind, like the continuance of 2G network period. Work has to start.
- 5G networks have started working in China, South Korea, and the US. Even if we start the preparatory work today, networks will start in 2023, according to Paulraj Committee schedule, and looking at the extra work required to be done beyond Paulraj report, by 2024. By that time, China would have expanded 5G to the entire country and set up new 5G industries, and would have started moving on to 6G, as the world is moving fast.
(The writer is former TRAI chairman)