The 5G great game

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Context: In the race among countries for 5G technology, there are many unimaginable benefits to mankind as well as hidden hazards to privacy.

Mains: GS-II, III – About 5G, its geopolitics, security, environmental and economic challenges, and impact.

What is 5G Technology?

  • 5G is the fifth-generation mobile network.
  • It is a new global wireless standard after 1G, 2G, 3G, and 4G networks.
  • 5G enables a new kind of network that is designed to connect virtually everyone and everything together including machines, objects, and devices.
  • 5G wireless technology is meant to deliver higher multi-Gbps peak data speeds, ultra-low latency, more reliability, massive- network capacity, increased availability, and a more uniform user experience to more users.
  • A government panel report points out that with 5G, the peak network data speeds are expected to be in the range of 2-20 Gigabit per second (Gbps).
  • This is in contrast to 4G link speeds averaging 6-7 Megabit per second (Mbps) in India as compared to 25 Mbps in advanced countries.
  • Simply put, 5G is expected to be significantly smarter, faster, and efficient compared to its legacy 3G and 4G predecessors. 
Evolution of cellular networks

  • First-generation – 1G
    • The 1980s: 1G delivered analog voice.
  • Second generation – 2G
    • In the early 1990s: 2G introduced digital voice (e.g. CDMA- Code Division Multiple Access).
  • Third generation – 3G
    • In the early 2000s: 3G brought mobile data (e.g. CDMA2000).
  • Fourth-generation – 4G LTE
    • The 2010s: 4G LTE ushered in the era of mobile broadband.
  • Fifth-generation – 5G
    • With high speeds, superior reliability, and negligible latency, 5G will expand the mobile ecosystem into new realms.
    • 5G will impact every industry, making safer transportation, remote healthcare, precision agriculture, digitized logistics.
    • For instance, it holds a promise of 100 times more speed relative to 4G networks.

Application of 5G

  • 5G Potential

5G race among nations
  • China
    • China has officially marked its entry to the 5G era. 
    • On 5th June 2019, the country’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology granted commercial licenses to four state-owned telecom giants.
    • By granting 5G licenses for commercial use, China has marked the beginning of a new era in the country’s telecommunications industry.
    • According to a forecast by the industry group, “Global System for Mobile Communication Association”, China is expected to become the world’s largest 5G market with 460 million users by the year 2025
    • According to a research report by the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology, 5G is expected to generate 10.6 trillion yuan (about 1.54 trillion US dollars) worth of economic output and over three million jobs between 2020 and 2025.
    • The 5G stations are being installed in different parts of China, including Tibet as part of the Chinese telecom giant, Huawei’s plans to lead the 5G trials
    • China started tests for 5G technology back in 2016 with a total of 7 domestic and international companies, including Huawei, Tang Telecom, and Ericsson.
    • China's 5G Diplomacy:
      • In Nepal:
        • Recently, China and Nepal agreeing to increase the height of Mount Everest by three meters. It may look insignificant.
        • This agreement could lead to an invasion by Chinese 5G technology.
        • As a result, it will control Nepal’s mountaineering and tourism industry.
      • The Belt and Road Initiative:
        • It is a fact that Chinese companies will build digital infrastructure in the BRI.
        • Countries that do not have 5G capabilities for IoT platforms and who allow Chinese 5G, could then become hostage to Chinese technology during the pandemic.
      • The China Pakistan Economic Corridor:
        • China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is a clear example to encircle a country.

The D10 club

  • The British government has approached the US with the prospect of creating a 5G club of 10 democracies, including India, amid growing security concerns related to Chinese telecom giant Huawei.
  • A so-called 'D10' club of democratic partners, including G7 countries – UK, US, Italy, Germany, France, Japan, and Canada – plus Australia, South Korea, and India will aim to create alternative suppliers of 5G equipment and other technologies to avoid relying on China.
  • The move to speed up such a club comes as the UK launched an inquiry into Huawei’s involvement in the country’s mobile network upgrade in the wake of US sanctions against the company.
  • India
    • India’s National Digital Communications Policy 2018 highlights the importance of 5G when it states that the convergence of a cluster of revolutionary technologies including 5G, the cloud, Internet of Things (IoT), and data analytics, along with a growing start-up community, promise to accelerate and deepen its digital engagement, opening up a new horizon of opportunities.
    • Global Telecom Industry body, GSMA, expects India to have 920 million unique mobile subscribers by 2025, which will include 88 million 5G connections
    • According to GSMA, the emergence of the 5G ecosystem in India will depend on telecom operators’ ability to invest in the network which requires support on policy and regulatory fronts. 
    • In the case of India, 5G networks could improve the accessibility of services such as mobile banking and healthcare, and enable exponential growth in opportunities for unemployed or underemployed people to engage in fulfilling and productive work.
    • India is working on technologies that would enable it to launch Indigenous 5G.
    • Ericsson Mobility Report, 2020
      • As per the report, 4 out of every 10 mobile subscriptions in 2026 will be 5G globally with 5G subscriptions forecast to reach 3.5 billion.
      • In the India region, LTE (long-term evolution technology) subscriptions are forecast to increase from 710 million in 2020 to 820 million in 2026” by which time 3G will be phased out.
      • LTE remains the dominant technology in 2020, accounting for 63%.
      • Based on the reported timeline for spectrum auction for 5G services, India could have its first 5G connection in 2021.
Changing Phenomenon in 2020
  • The COVID-19 has pushed people and businesses to work from home & the internet helped to connect them.
  • This year has seen an unprecedented intensification of global military conflicts since the Gulf War & many Nations showed their military intent.
  • AI applications have been at display at warfare, with drone killing machines are advertised.
  • There is no option left but to get the 5G technology now.
5G technology and geopolitics
  • Background
    • Started in the late 1980s by a former Deputy Regimental Chief in the People’s Liberation Army, Huawei has come a long way from being a reseller of switches imported from Hong Kong.
    • Huawei went on to sell its products and services in more than 170 countries, blitzing past Ericsson as the largest telecoms equipment manufacturer in the world in 2012.
    • It overtook Apple as the world’s second-largest manufacturer of smartphones in 2018 and had annual revenue of $122 billion and some 194,000 employees last year.
    • Huawei has faced criticism for various aspects of its operations, with its most prominent controversies having involved U.S. allegations of its products containing backdoors for Chinese government espionage.
    • In its report submitted in 2012 “the counterintelligence and security threat posed by Chinese telecommunications companies doing business in the US”, the US House panel noted that Huawei and ZTE cannot be trusted to be free of foreign state influence and thus pose a security threat.
    • The US Federal Communications Commission has designated these two companies as national security threats.
    • Thus, it blockaded Huawei on the ground that its equipment is designed to aid snooping and would make American telecoms players dependent on subsidized Chinese technology.
    • Soon after the US, Britain announced its ban on equipment from Huawei into the country’s high-speed wireless network.
    • Australia banned Huawei long back from supplying equipment for a 5G mobile network in 2018.
    • India along with Canada and some other countries is reviewing security implications and has yet to decide on allowing Huawei to provide equipment for them.
    • Most observers see this as a ‘technological cold war’ that could extend beyond just the US and China, and compel other countries, including India, to effectively choose between one camp and the other.
    • It is being described as a geopolitical struggle over technology that threatens to divide the world into two distinct technological blocs, with both countries striving to limit the other’s access to its advanced know-how.
    • The question is whether countries think the risks are high enough to dump a cheaper, viable option.
    • For China, the action has come at a time when 5G is set to be rolled out globally, with Huawei generally ahead in the race.
  • India’s concerns
    • India’s intelligence agencies, acting on inputs generated locally and received from other foreign agencies, have toughened their stance on two key issues – remote access and data storage.
    • A decision has been taken at the top level against data going outside India during the trials and Chinese vendors gaining remote access, which agencies feel will eventually land up in PLA headquarters.
    • Key to the security and strategic concerns is the extremely controversial China Intelligence Law legislated in 2017.
    • The CIL makes it mandatory for every Chinese supplier to actively share data and access to their equipment, installed anywhere in the world.
    • The purpose of this law is to provide a legal base for China to seek access and support from its citizens and companies for its intelligence and military activities.
  • Ladakh standoff
    • After the standoff in Ladakh, India has asked telecom service providers to exclude Chinese companies from the scope of their network upgrade contracts.
    • This was part of the wider decision to signal curbs on Chinese investments and tech companies in the country in light of the Atmanirbhar campaign.
    • In official statements, India justified the ban on 59 mobile apps with Chinese links on grounds of a threat to national security.
Impact of 5G on India: Opportunities and Challenges for Indian defence forces
  • Opportunities:
    • 5G will bring enormous benefits to the Indian armed services over the next decade at least.
    • It is widely regarded to be state-of-the-art technology, which will have a bearing on military operations. 
    • 5G brings great benefits to the civilian and commercial telecommunications sectors.
    • It will generate higher data rates, rapid transmission enabled by high bandwidth, and beyond the benefits, it brings to the civilian sector, there are considerable military benefits as well.
    • The military capability of India is likely to increase by seizing this opportunity to integrate 5G hardware and software for their current and future capabilities.
    • 5G will have faster response rates as opposed to 4G, wider bandwidth, and extremely quick transmission and reception of imagery and battlefield conditions.
    • 5G will have an impact on defence electronic systems that are part of the terrestrial radar networks and man-portable radio sets that impact communications.
  • Challenges:
    • Nevertheless, the 5G spectrum presents challenges to a range of the military’s technical capacities.
    • The armed services, even before the current military stand-off following Chinese military action in Ladakh in early May last year, did caution the GoI on including 5G equipment sourced from the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) as it could interfere with military communications and seriously impair the Army’s capacity to defend India along its extensive land frontier with the PRC.
    • Indian armed services will need to invest in rugged transportable equipment that keeps interference to a minimum in an operating environment.
    • To ensure the effective and complete performance of 5G for the Indian military, the government has to get technical experts to undertake computer simulations to obviate or limit interference.
    • The armed services are likely to face ubiquitous obstacles, such as high-powered jamming signals of the opponent. 
    • Thus, sourcing any piece of 5G equipment from China’s two telecommunications giants is likely to be very risky from the standpoint of the Indian armed services.
    • The GoI has to also factor in how 5G might interfere with space-based signal transmission. Transmission to ground-based receivers from space could suffer. For instance, in the United States, L1 signal transmission from a Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) is specifically created for civilian and commercial use and designed to at least limit or tolerate interference from adjacent spectrum in space systems, but not from terrestrial systems from the adjacent band. Interference of 5G with GPS signals is an issue not just for civilians, but very importantly the US military. Taking all these factors into account, the GoI needs to think through exactly where it sources 5G equipment as well as preventing 5G’s interference with space-based transmission from terrestrial networks.
How should India be 5G ready?
  • Current Scenario:
    • 5G is being seen as a likely game-changer for India, with the potential to create an economic impact of more than US$1 trillion by 2035.
    • In a recent digital competitiveness ranking survey conducted by the Institute for Management Development (IMD). India's ranking fell to the 48th position in 2020 from the 44 a year ago.
    • However, India's digital communication policy is trying to create a conducive environment to promote investments, and policy support to increase the digital footprint.
    • The current policies set directions to lay foundations for the 5G ecosystem with the aim to:
      • Enhance the contribution of the digital communication sector to 8% of India's GDP.
      • Propel India to the top 50 nations in the ICT development index of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)
      • Policy landscape to steer the growth of digital revolution – National Digital Communication Policy (NDCP) 2018 aiming at US$ 100 billion investment in the sector and ensuring broadband coverage at 50 Mbps for every citizen, Draft Cloud Computing policy, Electronic Development Fund (EDF) policy, National Manufacturing Policy, and Preferential Market Access (PMA).
    • Key areas to focus on will include:
      • Spectrum allocation: Reasonable spectrum pricing and swift allocation of spectrum
      • Networking: Policy framework enabling extensive fiberisation and incentivization to share fiber networks.

        Why extensive fiberisation?

        • Higher frequency 5G networks will demand deeper densification of networks.
        • The key enabler for seamless experience will be a robust fiber backhaul.
        • 8% of India's current mobile network rides over the radio as opposed to that of the US and China at 20%.
        • Hence, it would be imperative for government investment and policies to support fiber densification to reap the maximum benefits of the technology.
      • Self-reliant: Push for “Make in India” manufacturing for 5G equipment and handsets. Tailor-made 5G use cases and applications enabled through active trials
      • R&D: Indigenous technology advancements through R&D, and IPR development for standards, technology, spectrum, and security
      • PPP model: Public-private partnerships for broadband growth and penetration, 5G trials and testing, network densification among others.
The impact of 5G on ecosystems
  • Increasing Consumption:
    • The wasteful nature of manufacturing and maintenance of both individual devices and the devices used to deliver a 5G connection could become a major contributor to climate change.
    • There are around six billion mobile devices in use today, with this number expected to increase drastically as the global population increases and new devices enter the market.
    • In the case of making new devices, whether they be new smart-phones or the small cells needed for 5G, the use of nonrenewable metals is required.
    • It is extremely difficult to use metals for manufacturing sustainably because metals are not a renewable resource.

  • Disturbing ecological balance:
    • There is some evidence that the new devices and technologies associated with 5G will be harmful to delicate ecosystems.
    • The main component of the 5G network that will affect the earth’s ecosystems is the millimeter waves.
    • The millimeter waves that are being used in developing the 5G network have never been used at such a scale before.

What are Millimeter waves (MMW)?

  • Millimeter waves (MMW) are electromagnetic waves with a wavelength from 1 to 10 millimeters.
  • These waves share the features of microwaves and far-infrared waves since their wavelength ranges between these two waves.
  • This makes it especially difficult to know how they will impact the environment and certain ecosystems.
  • However, studies have found that there are some harms caused by these new technologies. Few examples are,
    • Birds:
      • The millimeter waves, specifically, have been linked to many disturbances in the ecosystems of birds.
      • A study done in Spain showed breeding, nesting, and roosting was negatively affected by microwave radiation emitted by a cell tower.
    • Bees:
      • The cellular devices had a detrimental impact on bees and cause colony collapse disorder.
      • Colony collapse disorder is when many of the bees living in the hive abandon the hive leaving the queen, the eggs, and a few worker bees.
    • Other species:
      • Again, the issue of the increase in the number of connection conductors in the form of small cells to provide a connection with the 5G network is seen to be harmful to species that live around humans.

How Investment in 5G can Fight against Climate Change- A case study.

  • Why?
    • Climate change is one of the most pressing issues confronting individuals and governments around the world. As a signatory to the 2015 Paris Agreement, Canada has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to 30% below 2005 levels by 2030.
  • What?
    • Canada is preparing to use 5G to meet its reduction targets by dramatically increasing the energy efficiency of Canada's wireless networks and enabling the creation and deployment of innovative technologies that will reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions in industries such as transportation, manufacturing, mining, forestry and critical building systems.
  • How?
    • 5G will allow network operators to be more energy efficient on a per unit output level:
      • Energy used by a general 5G cell site will be 8-15% of what is currently used by a similar 4G cell site. Overall, it is predicted that 5G will support a thousand-fold traffic increase in the next 10 years, while the full network's energy consumption will be half the current levels.
    • 5G will enable use cases that allow for improved carbon abatement from most industry verticals:
      • Research shows that the use of wireless technologies in high-emitting industries has enabled abatement of approximately 10 times as much carbon as the mobile industry's own operations have generated and that the adoption of 5G could contribute an additional abatement of up to 20% of total wireless technologies enabled abatement.
      • Altogether, mobile technologies have the potential to address 23% of Canada's total 2030 emission reduction target by 2025.
    • Ground-breaking new use cases:
      • 5G will allow for a more connected society and enable new technologies that contribute to reductions to our carbon footprint such as autonomous vehicles or intelligent energy networks.
      • In addition to carbon abatement, new use cases can increase the precision in monitoring the environment and combatting other forms of environmental degradation.


How 5G will affect jobs?
  • The Telecom sector is at the cusp of a transformation. The advent of 5G technology is expected to create a huge potential for both players and talent in the sector.
  • An estimated 22 million people are expected to be deployed in the telecom industry by 2035.
  • One of the profiles that will be positively impacted due to the adoption of advanced technology will be software professionals. In 2019, the telecom industry witnessed a 10% increase in demand for software professionals.
  • The adoption of newer technologies will not only act as a positive catalyst for opportunities in the telecom sector, it will have a ripple effect across industries.
  • The adoption of 5G will allow corporates or establishments to do real-time interactions with customers, opt for seamless video conferences with a more connected and efficient network, and above all real-time analytics which in turn will result in huge demand particularly for skills like business analytics, AI, ML, etc.
  • With speed, the 5G network is also expected to handle increased volumes of traffic leading to software skills like cloud, virtualization, which will also experience a spike in demand.
  • The adoption of 5G will also see greater adoption of IoT across sectors and thereby opening up more avenues for professionals skilled in IoT.
  • The need to upgrade the 4G equipment to 5G will see a hike in engineers working in the telecom field.
  • The adoption of optical fiber replacing the copper cable will mean you need more laborers & engineers who are experts with laying and maintaining fiber.
  • Other sectors like healthcare providers already monitor medical equipment like pacemakers remotely. But with 5G, the set of possible at-home diagnostics or even interventions will expand greatly, and telehealth installers and maintainers will be a highly valued occupation.
  • Similarly, precision agriculture will require “field sensor technicians,” autonomous vehicles will need a cadre of mechanics, and e-commerce will need people skilled in robotics maintenance.

How can the Indian workforce by 5G ready?

  • There will definitely be room for up-skilling & re-skilling of existing employees in the effort to make them 5G ready.
  • Overall, it definitely sounds to be a great future for the telecom sector which will return soon as one of the highest employment providers in India.
  • However, the successful adoption of the 5G ecosystem in India which can lead to a multi-fold increase in hiring would require GOI support to telecom companies on the policy and regulatory front.
  • And finally, India should make a significant investment in job training.
  • India needs to double down on traditional STEM fields and encourage more people in our country to go into engineering and math.
  • Beyond that, we need a national skills initiative and mentoring programs to ensure that this new generation of workers will have the training needed to support the cognitive-physical jobs that the 5G Revolution is already beginning to create.
  • The Government of India has to make climate action a cornerstone of its plan to grow our economy and create jobs, and 5G will play an important role in achieving these objectives.
  • While we know that 5G will create jobs and drive economic growth, this new study shows that 5G can achieve these results while also reducing India's carbon footprint across multiple critical industry sectors.
  • But delivering on the promise of a greener and more prosperous country requires policies that encourage private investment in network infrastructure and the support of all levels of government in reducing barriers to the deployment of 5G.

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