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If the 5G in telecommunications was a five-act play, the first act unfolded two years ago when US President Donald Trump rallied the developed world around banning Huawei Technologies, especially its 5G tech. 

The second act is being enacted now as countries permit, one by one, the Chinese telecoms vendor to supply its 5G gear for the new network roll-out, pilot or otherwise. In December 2019, India allowed Huawei to participate in 5G trials, too. 

However, this act has a sub-plot to it. And it’s playing out within the closed doors of the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) in Delhi. 

Around this time last year, the Indian standards body, Telecommunications Standards Development Society, India, or TSDSI, proposed a radio interface technology (RIT) to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). (We wrote about it here.)

Later in the year, in December, the ITU accepted it as a candidate RIT—proposals under consideration for additional features to telecom standards. The TSDSI tech is a new modification to the radio signal—the information carrier in telecommunications—which can enhance the signal transmission range of a base station. India wants to apply this technology for wider coverage at low speeds. This is ideal for rural India, which certainly needs high-speed broadband but not necessarily in high-speed vehicles. The term for this is Low Mobility Large Cell (LMLC). 

Starting February, the remaining steps for including the Indian RIT as part of the 5G global standards—International Mobile Telecommunications-2020— will begin. Independent groups will now evaluate this technology. As an Indian official says, “Quarterfinals are over, semi-finals will begin in Geneva this month.” 

The so-called match is between global telecoms vendors. Specifically, Nokia, Ericsson, Qualcomm on one side, and TSDSI on the other, alone at the negotiating table because there’s no Indian equipment company big enough to wield commercial clout internationally. The Indian proposal makes use of the 3rd Generation Partnership Product (3GPP) framework, a global standardisation body for wireless standards that is dominated by telecoms vendors. Consequently, TSDSI has asked it to reserve certain bits so that the RIT is harmonised. 

In other words, make the Indian tech interoperable with 3GPP specifications, which all equipment makers use to build their products, be it chipsets, smartphones, base stations, or modems. 

Soon after the RIT was accepted, causing much “drama” on the ITU floor, a 3GPP group headed by Balazs Bertenyi of Nokia shot a letter to TSDSI  saying it wasn’t possible for 3GPP to “retroactively ensure compatibility with modifications which were done outside of 3GPP.” 

It was followed by another missive last month, on 23 January.


Seema Singh

Seema has over two decades of experience in journalism. Before starting The Ken, Seema wrote “Myth Breaker: Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw and the Story of Indian Biotech”, published by HarperCollins in May 2016. Prior to that, she was a senior editor and bureau chief for Bangalore with Forbes India, and before that she wrote for Mint. Seema has written for numerous international publications like IEEE-Spectrum, New Scientist, Cell and Newsweek. Seema is a Knight Science Journalism Fellow from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a MacArthur Foundation Research Grantee.

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