Telecom operators turn to innovations like AI/ML as India gears up for 5G6 min read . Updated: 15 Oct 2020, 05:12 PM IST
In the fourth episode of the webinar series ‘Desh ki Digital Udaan’, industry experts discuss the network affordability as a trendsetter for cost, business and service innovation.
The Covid-19 pandemic has made India’s telecom sector the firm backbone that various other key sectors are resting upon. With schools turning virtual and doctor visits being scheduled over video calls, e-education and e-healthcare have become a household phenomenon, something we wouldn’t have been able to manage without robust mobile and data connectivity.
In Episode 4 of the webinar series, ‘Desh ki Digital Udaan’ which marks 25 years of mobility in India, a panel of industry experts has come together to discuss how network affordability will drive costs, business and service as India takes the leap towards 5G. The webinar is organised by Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) in association with the Department of Telecommunications and moderated by Amit Marwah, Head of Marketing and Corporate Affairs (CMO) India, Nokia.
The journey India has traversed in the last 25 years has been phenomenal. From no subscribers when the first mobile call was made in 1995 to almost 1.1 billion today, the second highest number of users in the world, the highest data consuming market in the world the tele density at urban level reaching 150 percent, rural density also going up substantially to 60 per cent.
“The discussion that we have is all about network affordability. We have done a lot in the past, but there is lots more that can be done in the future with technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), Cloud and the like. I think it's our chance again as in India to lead the world in making a transformation and being the trendsetters once again," said Marwah.
The pandemic has highlighted that digital transformation is actually happening to us. This has increased the demand from networks, something that networks of the future will have to cater to.
“Covid-19 has a massive impact on the demand for e-health and e-education. Remote education is occurring across the globe and very particularly in India. The first issue that's going to be challenged is basic connectivity. Fixed wireless access really gives cost-efficient vehicle to help enable that connectivity," said David Stokes, Senior Manager, Solutions Marketing, Ribbon Communication.
The pandemic apart, India has come a long way in the field of science and technology and digital services are gearing to contribute one trillion dollars out of a five trillion dollar economy, thereby creating countless jobs.
“Now, emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, Internet of things (IoT), and 5G are significantly impacting processes and aspirations in critical sectors such as manufacturing, education, healthcare, agriculture, financial and social activities. Development of these technologies has the potential to disrupt and change the working of all these sectors," said Prof Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary, Department of Science and Technology, Government of India.
They also expected to be a five-fold increase in economic value from India's digital transformation by 2025 and this would create a rapidly growing market for a host of digital services, platforms, applications, content, and solutions. The future is all about convergence of these technologies.
Operators, today, are increasingly seeking ways to grow revenue and cut costs in a high growth environment which is made more complicated by the demanding requirements of new services, that is high-speed low latency and ultra-reliability.
This complex interplay of network infrastructure, its compatibility, complexity and affordability, along with measures how to decrease Capex and further increase efficiency and investments in telecom networks is going to be key to India’s growth story. “Operators need to evolve their networks using innovations such as virtual ran edge computing and network automation to meet the demands of the 4G or 5G era," said Lt Gen SP Kochhar, Director General COAI.
Telecom companies are already gearing up for the new technology wave that is going to bring with it a host of new opportunities, making networks very complex but, at the same time, making life more automated.
“If you can invest in these technologies at the right time, they will help us deliver and manage networks and customer experience in a more automated way. At Airtel, we know 5G is the next wave which is coming, which bring its own set of complexities. We are preparing our networks on a core and transport side for automated deployment and automated readiness of network to get ready for 5G," said Randeep Sekhon, CTO, Bharti Airtel.
While complexity and scale are the big challenges in delivering cost efficiencies and improving margins in the network of the future, designing the right network which is programmable and simple will help create the economies for the future.
“The change this time with 5G coming in is the shape and form of the of the whole product suit has become so orthogonal that the service sets are totally independent of each other and have multiple vectors," said Shyam Mardikar, CTO, Reliance Jio Infocomm.
What India needs today is creating capability through a universal network approach for which getting the right skill-set in place is imperative. “India does not only need cheap connectivity. We need our industry telcos to become the base platform, the horizontal industry instead of the vertical on which the entire digital India will be built. For that, you really need to build very strong SI capabilities either with yourself or in partnership with someone else," said Vishant Vora, CTO, Vi.
The challenges in this journey of transformation as Telcos try to adopt newer technologies and deliver personalised experiences for clients – both enterprises and consumers. “As we try to cloudify our network more, it is very important that we try to make it universal so that cloud should be able to host as many different network applications IT applications, third-party applications as possible," Vora said.
One of the game changers in this transition is the customers themselves. For the first time, enterprise customers will play a pivotal role through the vertical industry partnerships or directly.
“5G to cater to a completely different aspect of customers which is the enterprise. It will add more value to them and also create more value for the Telcos themselves moving away from what consumer services could give, which is a challenge both from a revenue and a profitability standpoint," said Vikram S Anand, Senior Director Sales, Ciena Communications.
Digital is the only way to go. It is no longer a choice, but a must have. In conclusion, the vision needs to be clear on who the AI/ML solutions are being built for in order for these capabilities to work.
“There are four important pillars– infrastructure, architecture, the operating model and the business model which need to be thought about holistically. Physical infrastructure innovation is critical, part of which is infrastructure sharing in terms of fiber and spectrum sharing. You build it once and build it right. SIs play at significant role not only at the physical layer, but also the virtual layer and all the way to the cloud native layer to stitch the VNFs and CNFs together," said Sandeep Dhingra, CTO, Network Services Business, STL.
As India gears up for 5G, building those AI/ML capabilities is a journey for the next two three years and will reflect in growth across sectors. This also presents a big opportunity for the Made in India story, where we can make sure all these technologies get made in India not only for Indian consumption but also for global consumption and that also will bring down costs. The need of the hour is a digital mindset for both the workforce and the leadership.