What if 5G fails us like 4G?

5G

5G is also expected to drive digitalisation of industries and create new jobs in millions as it aims to explore full possibilities of the hyperconnected world


For the uninitiated, understanding the 5G technology could be a little tricky. It's the fifth generation of cellular networks, bringing to the table ultra-low latency and greater bandwidth. Put it simply, it means, faster internet speed than what the current 4G offers on your smart phone; it means you will be able to access a website faster than ever before. The speed could be even 100 times faster and is designed to transmit data with a latency of less than 10ms, a massive improvement on the optimal 20-40ms range.  

Besides providing enhanced experiences to mobile phone users by 2023-24, 5G is also expected to drive digitalisation of industries and create new jobs in millions as it aims to explore full possibilities of the hyperconnected world where Industry 4.0 to cloud gaming and VR-AR become part of everyday experience. It's no secret that like the rest of the progressive world, India plans to unlock its potential as a global 5G hub and build a strong ecosystem.

One of the telecom powerhouses in the country, Airtel late last year revealed that they have been allocated 5G trial spectrum by the Department of Telecommunications for the purpose of technology validation. That they have rolled out the '5GforBusiness' initiative and were partnering with leading technology companies to demonstrate a wide range of enterprise grade use cases using high speed and low latency networks.

Now wait, before we set our vision too far ahead, do you really think you want your 4G upgraded to 5G? Of course, the answer would be and should be a resounding 'yes'. But think again, do you really think that the 4G technology has ever worked properly in India? Aren't you worried that 5G may turn out to be another sham?

The fourth generation has proved to have the capability to handle higher data speeds required for multimedia streaming. But the inconsistencies persist. Like once you step out of your house where you have the benefit of Wi-Fi, your 4G is sort of irrelevant because it barely works. So many times you are frustrated out of doors because you can't send out an important mail or open a website on your smart phone.

Image: @IgnacioTechie·12h

4G doesn't even work in open places, let alone in an elevator or the basement of your building. Or at best it stutters. In the entire house, there is probably one room, if you are lucky, where there is some light at the end of the tunnel vis-à-vis the internet accessibility. On days when your Wi-Fi is not in order, working from home can become a nightmare. It has been almost two years since the work-from-home culture has caught on in India on account of the Covid-19 pandemic, and these problems have very often plagued the users heavily dependent on their cellular network.  

These issues aside, 5G is not coming for free either. The 5G introduction will lead to an increase in prices currently offered by telecommunication companies. The mobile phones too will see a hike in their prices.

Also, there will be a requirement of several base stations suitable to the 5G technology. The higher the frequency of the waves is, the lower will be the range of the base station and 5G is expected to work at around 3500 MHz which means the tower's range will be significantly lower than that of the 4G tower. As per current estimates, the towers' number will have to go up at least 10 times which means a lot of investment will be needed from the telecom companies.

It may be noted that to begin with, it will be a non-standalone operation in India, a mix of 4G and 5G. Standalone operation will take over completely only when an overwhelming majority embraces the 5G technology. To put it simply, people don't have to worry that their 4G mobile sets will not be good for internet use anymore once 5G is introduced. A full switchover is likely to take years, that can be anything between 5 and 10 years -- if truth be told.  

However, what if our telecom companies do a shoddy job of it and at the end of it, there is very little improvement on 4G and it is not commensurate with the hike in prices of mobile phones and telecom packages? These are the questions that are staring us in the face at present, and one can only hope for the best.

Written by Prateek Srivastava, edited by B Lakshmi
 

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