The new generation mobile and wireless technology, 5G, is around the corner. It is expected that with 5G, faster and better communication will revolutionise everything from high-speed downloading, leisurely chatting to banking transactions and data-heavy technologies like driverless cars.
India has the second largest number of mobile users after China. Now almost every household has at least one mobile phone. Countries which adopt next generation technologies like 5G faster than others will not only provide efficient citizen services but also enhance competitiveness in many fields in the globalised world. In the case of India these services include Jan-Dhan Yojana, DBT transfers under gas subsidy and payments to MGNREGA workers
Evolution of Network
But will 5G be better than the existing network? For those who struggle to get a 3G signal in their area, will it really make any difference? To understand this, we should look at how different generations of mobile technologies evolved over the past three decades.
The 1st Generation (1G) mobile phones introduced in the 1980s used analog mobile cellular systems. 2G, introduced in 1991 in Japan, facilitated SMS text messaging in addition to voice call. The main difference between 1G and 2G was that radio signals used by 1G networks were analog while for 2G networks these were digital. 1G was replaced by 2G in the late 90s.
In 2001, 3G technology facilitated internet facilities and Bluetooth, which enabled sharing of data and pictures over mobiles. With the 3G network, speed of data transfer increased up to 21.1 Mbps from 1 Mbps in 2G. 4G introduced in 2008 is five times speedier than 3G. 4G can offer download speeds of up to 100 Mbps, enables social media, video streaming, HD mobile TV and makes it easier to order food or a taxi with a few tappings through apps.
But the 5G technology is 1,000 times speedier in bandwidth per unit area and data speed will be 50-100 times faster than 4G. A full DVD of a movie can be downloaded in less than half-a-minute using 5G. It will enable wider adoption of next generation data-heavy technologies like blockchain, artificial intelligence, deep machine learning and possibly quantum computing.
Citizen Services, Governance
India is getting ready to implement the 5G network to speed up its ‘Digital India’ and ‘Make in India’ initiatives and to keep pace with other developed countries in the race for adoption of this next generation technology. 5G will improve internet speed, quality of network and will enable digital transformation of services in the areas of governance, healthcare, education, entertainment, agriculture and manufacturing.
It will help in enhancing efficiency of e-Governance platforms like GST, Jandhan-Aadhaar-Mobile (JAM) related services, digitisation of land records, blockchain-based agricultural commodity value chains. It will also provide ultra-reliable communications for remote medical treatment, patient surveillance, etc, which need high-speed and reliable data transfer. It will also facilitate real-time communication required in robotics control for a manufacturing factory in a remote place.
5G can enable faster real-time mobile transactions, shorten settlement cycles in financial transactions and remove latencies (delay time). It will help in benefits flow to the citizens enrolled under financial inclusion schemes through eliminating fear of ID theft, faster detection of cybercrimes, apart from adding more user-friendly features to ATMs, big-data analytics for better consumer experience, easy and quick transactions across agricultural value chains of input purchase, farm advisory, finding output markets and export markets. It will also help in integration of mobiles with digital identity, credit/debit card as the main channels for banking, facilitate people-to-people lending among SHGs and others.
Farmers and SMEs
The 5G ecosystem will allow speeder surveying of land/building records (for loan processing) based on which financial institutions would give loans without human interface. Some agricultural startups are working on integrating multiple services for the entire agricultural value chain for farmers on the blockchain platform like linking them to credit and insurance providers, tractor hire services, seed and fertilizer dealers, processors and exporters to provide inputs and services on demand. All these without even farmers going to their fields. When coupled with geo-tagging and 3D surveying, these innovations will improve system efficiency while reducing fraudulent claims.
Similarly, a connected financial supply chain (FSC) for small and medium scale industries leveraging the 5G technology can integrate input suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and shoppers. Such connected FSC will be the basic step for financial inclusion of low-income households.
It will enable transparent information flow and instant transactions among all stakeholders, in turn, facilitating trust and mutual help between them. They are now exploited by middlemen due to asymmetric information. It will also help in better decision making by all stakeholders and government as tracking of real-time information and transaction gets easy and timely. Farmers and small-scale enterprises will be able to know the changing consumer preferences and adjust better to supply commodities that are in demand so as to fetch higher prices.
In this context, India has to prepare for the 5G network to emerge as a technology leader in the fiercely competitive globalised world. Both government and private sector need to participate and explore synergies in absorbing the technology in various sectors including citizen services, agriculture, healthcare, banking and financial services. There is a need for enhanced collaboration between telecoms and internet service providers/app developers to ensure a smooth transition from the present 4G network to 5G so that mobiles act as more powerful tools in empowering citizens.
(The author is Principal Scientist, ICAR-Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture)