How India and Israel can lead the way on 5G collaboration
Imagine an Israeli surgeon based in Tel Aviv operating on a patient in Mumbai remotely. This is just one of the promises of 5G telecom networks, which will be characterised by rapid connectivity and near-zero latency. The 5G revolution can open new pathways beyond health-technology and faster smartphones to self-driving cars, the internet of things and virtual reality.
Despite the evident opportunities, 5G deployment globally hasn’t been without challenges. Superpower competition, costly infrastructure, and slow application development are holding back development. India and Israel can, together, leverage their strengths to collaborate in areas such application development, building networks of trust, and future research and development and unleash the possibilities of 5G for their citizens.
Both Israel and India boast of a strong innovation base and are focused on technology-driven development. But both have been lagging behind in terms of their 5G rollout. Yet as they begin to build their respective 5G infrastructure, it is crucial to keep in mind the example of South Korea, where insufficient application development has limited the gains from 5G. After South Korea’s rapid 5G infrastructure push, over half a million users returned their 5G subscriptions in 2020 due to the lack of relevant and attractive content and services.
India and Israel have a real opportunity for cooperation to avoid this. Strong application-based technology and infrastructure, supported by government policy, will likely ease the capital investment concerns for telecom operators. Speaking at a recent roundtable discussion, Israeli Consul-General in Bengaluru, Jonathan Zadka, highlighted that Israel and India are both fully integrated into the global app economy, but more cooperation is needed when it comes to deep-tech.
This is where both governments should enable entrepreneurs and innovators to work together. The creation of an Israel-India high-level task force can bring together industry leaders, policymakers, and academia to identify opportunities for collaboration. The establishment of joint Centres of Excellence (CoE) focussed on emerging technologies could be another step, permitting research and talent development. This effort can be bilateral in nature, but it can also leverage the strengths of other actors such as Taiwan, Japan, and Singapore.
Such cooperation among middle powers is critical as the United States-China technology competition intensifies. US policy has primarily focused on security concerns on 5G. Washington has called on allies to join its Clean Network Initiative, which dispenses with Chinese involvement in telecom networks. Despite this, complete Sino-US technology decoupling seems highly unlikely. Nevertheless, this tense dynamic presents a strategic challenge for other states.
Therefore, factors such as security, trust, and supply chain resilience must guide decisions on cooperation between India, Israel, and other like-minded states. As democracies, India and Israel should be cautious in sourcing their hardware and must work to leverage comparative advantages and mitigate risks.
One approach to do this could entail creating an India-Israel-US partnership, which combines Indian software expertise, Israel’s device development capabilities, and the US’s clout in building cloud-based applications and setting international standards. The 5G era will involve a lot of visualisation, which creates opportunities for Indian software firms to take the lead. Also, focussing on AI-based security solutions along with the development of use cases in sectors such as agriculture, health care and transportation will facilitate international cooperation. Meanwhile, as a start-up nation, Israel could use its ingenuity to create devices of the future, powered on 5G and other emerging technologies. The US, finally, can leverage its application development ecosystem and its cybersecurity expertise to create new opportunities and ensure network security.
Such an approach is likely to resonate well with the private sector, too. High-tech geopolitics is increasingly influencing corporate decision-making. Companies are looking to States to create pathways for the private sector to collaborate to build resilience and opportunities. A multifaceted and clearly defined 5G partnership between India and Israel could lead the way forward.
Manoj Kewalramani is the chair of the Indo-Pacific Studies Programme at the Takshashila Institution
Gedaliah Afterman is the head of the Asia Policy Program at the Abba Eban Institute for International Diplomacy
The views expressed are personal