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India unprepared for roll-out of 5G: House panel on IT

New Delhi: India is entirely unprepared to roll out 5G telecom services, the parliamentary panel on information technology said in a report adopted on Wednesday, blaming the government’s “laidback” approach to the launch of the technology
By Deeksha Bhardwaj
PUBLISHED ON FEB 07, 2021 11:37 PM IST

New Delhi: India is entirely unprepared to roll out 5G telecom services, the parliamentary panel on information technology said in a report adopted on Wednesday, blaming the government’s “laidback” approach to the launch of the technology. A telecom official said 5G trials were set to start soon and a roll-out was likely by early 2022.

The panel, headed by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, concluded that “sufficient preparatory work has not been undertaken for launching of 5G services in India. As such, India has not moved beyond the modest beginning stage as compared to other countries in the world”.

On January 28, Prasad had said that the test bed for the next generation technology was ready and the country would be using indigenously made telecom equipment. The minister added that the government would soon grant a permit for the 5G trials.

“We lagged in 2G, 3G and 4G but in 5G India should move at a speed faster than the world with made-in-India 5G. We have made a test bed and we are soon going to permit it. Core network should be Indian,” Prasad said at a National Informatics Centre Services Incorporated (NICSI) event to launch government e-office tools.

Government officials familiar with the matter said the 5G trials are likely to commence soon and the technology will be rolled out across metropolitan cities by early 2022. “It will be rolled out in the metros first and then percolate to other parts of the country,” an official said on condition of anonymity.

In its report, the parliamentary committee raised concerns that the advent of 5G services in the country may be further delayed, judging from previous experience.

“While 2G was deployed globally in 1991, it was deployed in India only in 1995; 3G was deployed globally in 1998 but deployed in India ten years later, i.e. in 2008. Similarly, 4G services were launched in India seven years after their global launching in 2008. This reflects very poorly on our planning and execution. Now when many countries are swiftly moving towards 5G technology, India is likely to witness its deployment only by the end of 2021 or early part of 2022, that too partially,” said the report, a copy of which was sen by HT.

At a January event by industry lobby Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), Prasad said India did not want to miss the 5G bus and urged Indian companies to be “proactive in creating an Indian 5G model.” India is still evaluating its 5G testing models.

Several countries around the world have already deployed 5G, and Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd’s chairman Mukeh Ambani said in December that his company would do so in “the second half of 2021.”

That may not happen because India is yet to auction radio waves (spectrum) for 5G.

Unless time-bound action is taken, “India is going to miss the bus on 5G opportunities,” the parliamentary committee report warned.

The Department of Telecom had earlier set the target of starting 5G trials in 2019 and roll out the next-generation service in 2020-21.Because of claims by the defence ministry and space department on part of the spectrum that was identified for 5G services, the deadline was missed.

Government officials familiar with the matter said that the issues, as far as the availability of spectrum were concerned, have been resolved after meetings with the cabinet secretary. “The concerned ministries and the cabinet secretary have met regarding spectrum availability. Sufficient spectrum will be available,” the official mentioned above said.

Concerns flagged by the parliamentary committee include lack of preparedness, spectrum issues and, uncertainty around sale of radio waves for 5G, among others.

“The Committee finds that inadequate availability of spectrum, high spectrum prices, poor development of use cases, low status of fiberization, non-uniform RoW {right of way} issues, deficient backhaul capacity, etc. are some of the factors coming in the way of rolling out of 5G services in India,” the report said.

The official cited above added that as far as pricing was concerned, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) had made its recommendation, but a final decision would be taken by the government. “The price TRAI has recommended may be high, but ultimately the government will decide what is a fair offer.”

The official added that DoT has already conducted a hackathon and identified 100 uses of 5G; it awarded Rs. 1 lakh per entry in the contest. “Initially, 5G will be rolled out on the existing 4G core. It will then be developed further,” the official said.

The official further stated that the price of 5G mobile handsets would also come down once the technology becomes commonplace.

The panel also highlighted security concerns surrounding the roll-out of the technology and the vulnerabilities it presents.

“Reliance Jio has informed the Committee that from 5G onwards, technology will become much more intrusive in our business operations, given the applications, widespread digitisation, e-governance, the smart city project, all the cameras in a city, the data centres, the devices and the chipset in the devices, etc. Now, the more open and denser this whole network gets, the more vulnerable it becomes to threats,” the report cautioned.

“Because of the increased dependency of communication networks, the hacking of 5G networks is a very clear national security risk. The only solution is to build secure and trustworthy indigenous communication infrastructure,” the Telecom Equipment Manufacturers Association informed the panel, said the report.

The threats are simplified as STRIDE, where S stands for Spoofing, T stands for Tampering, R stands for Repudiation, I for information disclosure,‘D for denial of service making the network unavailable when it is needed, and E for what they call the escalation of privileges.

“Because of the increased dependency of communication networks, the hacking of 5G networks is a very clear national security risk. The only solution is to build secure and trustworthy indigenous communication infrastructure,” Telecom Equipment Manufacturers Association informed the panel, according tot the report.

The parliamentary committee has factored in that massive data, both personal and non-personal, which will demand special efforts for its protection, will be generated with the adoption of 5G services.

“The growing concern over availability and protection of user data and privacy will exacerbate with security challenges in 5G. The Committee are aware the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 is still under consideration of the Government and will deal with various data security issues.” It has recommended that indigenous intellectual property rights, equipment and software should be encouraged and developed.

The panel has also considered the global security concerns surrounding telecom equipment provided by Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd. and ZTE Corporation, twomajor Chinese equipment providers in India.The US and European Union have banned Huawei over these concerns, India has not taken any specific call on the matter.

“In view of the security-related concerns raised by various countries, such as USA and European Union, the Committee feel that adequate precautions should also be taken by India before installing telecom equipment from Chinese sources in the Indian telecom network including 5G. The Committee desire that in-built safety measures be put in place to ensure that the security of the country is not compromised. The Committee also desire that such safety mechanisms should be strictly adhered to by public and private telecom companies,” the report said.

Telecom expert Mahesh Uppal said 5G will present its own challenges and that the country was not really prepared to roll out the services on any significant scale.

“I think what the officials are saying suggests that there has been some movement and the government has been working on freeing up more spectrum for 5G,” Uppal said. “We still do not know whether the last word has been said on that.”

Uppal added: “A more important issue is that price of spectrum is too high. The companies have said that they find it unaffordable. The problems relating to RoW {right of way} are serious and have existed for over 20 years and there has been very little movement on them. This will be a problem as 5G will require many times more towers and at short distances.”

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