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Next stop is 5G!

The fifth iteration in mobile communication, just  2 years  away, will profoundly affect both nations and individuals in radical new ways. And for a change, it looks like India will be at the vanguard of developments
By Anand Parthasarathy
Bangalore, December 10 2017: In the 45 years since  Motorola engineer-inventor  Martin Cooper made the world's first commercial   voice call from a portable instrument, on the streets of New York,   the technology of  mobile, cellular telephony  has seen four up ticks, roughly one every decade. In the process, bulky analog  phones gave way to  sleek digital instruments;  text -based messaging  became a popular additional service;  phones could access the Internet at ever zippier speeds -- and   the tail wagged the dog: data  replaced voice as the primary  vehicle of communication. 
The fifth generation of cellular network technology -- or 5G -- is  over two years away.   Yet  there is a palpable air of excitement and expectation, a flurry of announcements by  phone makers, telecom providers -- and governments -- which makes this different from all earlier advances in  the mobile phone business. Why?
Experts tell us  that 5G will profoundly affect  global economies on one hand and    peoples' lifestyles on the other. It will have as much impact on society  as electricity did in an earlier age, they predict, triggering a new industrial revolution. The mobile phone will cease to be a gee-whiz gadget and  will morph in to a  general purpose utility  like power or water or transportation.  A tool to connect people to people --   and information  -- will transform into  a new fabric connecting people... to everything.
This is because, the next  generation of mobile handsets  will  debut at a time when the Internet of Things (IoT) has become a mature, robust reality: the interconnection via the Internet,  of computing devices embedded in millions of everyday objects, from toasters to doorbells to street lights,  enabling them to send and receive data.  To be able to harness the dozens of such connected devices that any one individual commands,  a central communicator is necessary in every one's hands.  It has to be cheap, simple and ubiquitous -- and   mobile phone  has no competitors for this role.  Last month, official numbers from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) put the number of  telephones  subscribed at  just over 1.2 crores  --  that is 93 out of 100 Indians. Even allowing  for some duplication of  phones, this is an awesome reach.
This is also perhaps the reason that, this time around, India is not a late follower but in the vanguard of developments to  ensure readiness for the switch over to 5G. Industry and government  are on the same page:  as you read this,  5G test beds are  being set up at multiple locations, where the readiness of networks and devices for next generation cellular communication can be tested and prototypes run. A test bed is a lab environment where multiple wireless technologies like millimetre waves, Multiple In Multiple Out (MIMO) and backhaul can be simulated with realistic loads. Such systems   created by Indian academics and engineers are up and running at IIT Madras and IIIT-Hyderabad. The test bed at IIT Delhi  has been created by  with help from  global telecom player Ericsson and serves as an incubation centre for startups. 
The states are also stirring themselves: Karnataka has signed an MOU with Finland and is drawing on the expertise of Finland-headquartered Nokia which has  its main Indian R&D facility in Bengaluru, to   put the state on the 5G map.  India's leading telecom providers have made their own arrangements to be 5G ready in good time for the global rollout that is expected to happen in 2020. BSNL has turned to Nokia and its "5G First" end to end solution, while Reliance Jio has partnered with Samsung. Airtel  has announced a strategic partnership with Korean telecommunications service provider SK Telecom to leverage its expertise to build the most advanced  5G telecom network in India. It has also announced that it is  poised  to deploy state-of-the-art Massive Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (MIMO) technology,  key enabler for 5G networks, starting with Bengaluru and Kolkata. 
At its factory at Oragadam near Chennai,  Nokia  is set by this month end, to manufacture  5G-ready  AirScale base stations -- the equipment that allows telecom  providers to offer 5G-speed services. This is Nokia's largest production unit  and these base stations will allow operators to make a smooth transition to 5G while still supporting 4G from the  same hardware... and will also see India export 5G hardware to the rest of  the world.
|Meanwhile the ubiquity of mobile Internet is helped by initiatives like the RailTel-Google project to provide free WiFi at railway stations -- over 200  last month.
The smack of firm purpose  is also visible in official corridors. Government has constituted High Level 5G India 2020 Forum with three Secretaries of key Ministries/Departments Telecom, Meity and DST, and  has  coopted renowned experts like Dr. A. Paulraj, Professor Emeritus, Stanford University, USA, Mr Gururaj Deshpande - Chairman of Sycamore Networks, Sandstone, USA, Indian industry led by CEOs of  the infotech and telecom industry, Telecom Standard Development Organisation of India (TSDSI), Professors from IIT Madras, IIT Mumbai, IIT Delhi, IIT Hyderabad, IISc Bengaluru, IT industry and stakeholders from industry associations. The  Forum will provide leadership across the public and private spectrum to  ensure a coordinated  and time-bound rollout of 5G technologies and infrastructure, and more importantly,  the  nurturing of innovation  and generation of intellectual property in 5G arenas. The Forum is chaired by Telecom Secretary  Aruna Sundararajan,  a veteran technology administrator  who  has headed  the Infotech deparment as well as the Bharat Broadband initiative during earlier tenures.
The harmonious coming together of  academic, public and private players at this early stage bodes well  for India's  ambitions to leverage  futuretech like 5G for   governance and citizen empowerment. The bits and pieces are falling into place. The prognosis is  good that  ' 5G hai ji!'  will  be a real and meaningful mantra for Indians,  two years down the road.
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What 5G can do for YOU
At the Global Mobile Broadband Forum (Global MBBF) in London
last month  Huawei identified the Top Ten  most promising 5G use cases:

Cloud VR/AR
Connected automotive
Smart manufacturing
Connected energy
Wireless eHealth
Wireless home entertainment
Connected drones
Social networks
Personal AI assistant
Smart City
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Next stop is 5G!
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