Making India 5G-Ready

STL (Sterlite Technologies Ltd) is amping up its 5G game and building a lot of radios in both dual and tri band which can be deployed across spectrums: Ankit Agarwal, managing director

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India is on the cusp of a 5G boom and the final roll out is in its last stages of development. The government is planning to come up with the 5G auction in the later half of 2022. Seizing the opportunity, STL (Sterlite Technologies Ltd), is coming up with innovations to amp up its 5G game.

The company's innovation is focused on making small-form factors with least energy requirement. "For 5G, we are building a lot of radios in both dual and tri band, which can be deployed across spectrums," said Ankit Agarwal, managing director at STL.

Talking about the opportunities, he said, "The 5G solutions are largely dependent on imports, but now, we are seeing a great opportunity. By 2025 India will have 200 million 5G subscribers. This field also requires a huge network investment in the next four to five years by telecom operators and data center players."

While the company is among the global top names on the optic fiber side, it is now bullish about its wireless network solutions. The company has developed a new technology–Open RAN (radio access network)--to support the network. "More than 350 engineers are working on the technology needed to support the network. In this 5G environment there will be a convergence of fixed network (fiber optics) and the wireless network."

For building its 5G radios, the technology heavyweight, has partnered with companies which can manufacture the products physically. STL is in talks with telecom operators and service operators around the globe to develop new ways to deploy services over the Cloud rather than being dependent on traditional ways.

"This development is also part of the PLI scheme (production-linked incentive scheme) and we are also looking forward to manufacturing some of the components in-house."

Request to TRAI

Industry players had earlier requested TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) to reduce the spectrum prices in order to make the network affordable and accessible to all. "We have requested for a very low 5G spectrum price to make it feasible. This will help us with enough capital for this massive network."

Drawing cue from the suggestions, TRAI has come up with its recommendations on spectrum pricing and auction modalities. To encourage India's mobile phone companies to bid aggressively in the upcoming 5G airwaves sale, TRAI has recommended slashing the base price of premium 3.3-3.67 Ghz airwaves by nearly 36 per cent and cutting the rate of the coveted 700 Mhz spectrum by 40 per cent.

Do we have adequate infrastructure?

According to the government and department of telecom's findings, the large-scale network infrastructure necessary for the 5G India launch is still not sufficient. "There is a need for fiber infrastructure deployment in India. Four to five times more fiber will be required to deploy a high quality 5G network. We would need to showcase at least 200 to 300 mbp download and 50 to 60 mbps upload," said Agarwal.

Tower and small cells are required both for indoor and outdoor coverage. "More than 80 per cent of the data will be consumed indoors. Moving from outdoors to indoors, we will need these small cells to support seamless 5G connectivity."

While the 5G network will be available for consumers, telecom operators and governments also need to focus on building private networks for enterprises. "The most important factor is to provide the spectrum at a very affordable level. So that most of the capital from the operator's perspective is deployed at the network."

"There are a lot of challenges when it comes to deployment. The center and the state government need to give operators like us more authority to deploy and self certify the network. This will accelerate the process," he added.