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Having been through many fits and starts over the past year, fifth-generation telecommunications, 5G, is finally approved for field trials in India. In May, the Department of Telecom (DoT) notified the rules for a six-month trial for 5G use and application. Somewhere in the copious text was a recommendation encouraging operators “to conduct trials using 5Gi technology in addition to the already known 5G technology”.

The ‘i’ in 5Gi stands for the tiny contribution that India has made to 5G, a first for the country in telecom standards. Technically, 5Gi is a superset of the global 5G standards; it’s like 5G+, but a good section of the global telecoms vendor community views it as “fragmentation”, something that has “never happened in wireless tech before”.

Unlike other technologies, where standards follow research and development, in telecom, research is encoded into standards first, with products and applications developed later. This is why the process of making telecom standards is a decade-long saga dominated by giant telecom equipment makers and intellectual property (IP) holders such as Qualcomm, Nokia, Ericsson, Huawei, and Samsung. The latter two Asian vendors have had an impressive run in 5G and rank among the world’s top four 5G patent owners.

As we wrote earlier earlier The Ken India makes its maiden entry into 5G standards, pisses off big telecoms Read more , India managed to get a key feature included just as the 5G standards window was closing in early 2019. It was a watered-down feature named Low Mobility Large Cell (LMLC) but was desirable nonetheless. It’s meant to improve the battery life of a mobile phone and enhance the signal transmission range of a base station from the current last-mile distance of 1.7 km to as much as 10-12 km. A year later, in 2020 in 2020 The Ken The ping pong of 5G telecoms lobbying, from Geneva to Delhi and back Read more , when the final contours of 5G standards— IMT2020 IMT2020 International Mobile Telecommunications-2020 These are requirements issued by the ITU Radiocommunication Sector of the International Telecommunication Union in 2015 for 5G networks, devices and services. —were being frozen, vendors lobbied fiercely in Geneva to delay the inclusion of the full feature. Some say it was because India came late to the negotiation table, others say the tech itself had “issues”. Truth is, vendors feared it’d lead to mandatory implementation in India even though a business case looked shaky.

By December 2020, when standards were rolled out by 3GPP 3GPP 3GPP is a collaboration of seven national telecoms standard development organisations that draw up complete mobile system specifications.


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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