Move over 4G, Internet of Things and 5G will be the flavour of 2017

New Delhi: In what could herald a new era in telecom technology in India, the industry watchdog will soon release consultation papers ahead of framing regulations and standards for the rollout of 5G networks and Internet of Things (IoT).

5G is the next generation of wireless networks, which are expected to offer lightening speed and also possess the capacity to connect billions of devices.

IoT is defined as a worldwide network of “things” that include identifiable devices, appliances, equipment, machinery of all forms and sizes with the intelligence to seamlessly connect, communicate and control or manage each other to perform a set of tasks with minimum intervention.

“For next year, we are preparing a timetable by mid-January of a broad list of things (that we want to do),” Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) chairman R.S. Sharma said in an interview on Tuesday. “It has not been decided entirely but one of the things in mind is that new technologies need a push. How can we incentivize upcoming, cutting-edge technologies such as IoT and 5G? We will do consultation about that.”

The move may also provide an opportunity to the government to attempt afresh to sell 700 mega hertz (MHz) airwaves which are ideally suited for 5G services. There were no takers for this spectrum band in the last auction of airwaves.

“We would like to understand from the stakeholders… whether there are any regulatory or legal barriers to growth of such a sector. These would not necessarily be just laying frameworks but also to understand if there are any regulatory issues. This will bring regulatory predictability to the sector,” Sharma added.

Sharma, who courted controversy because of his stand on issues such as net neutrality and call drops, has one more year left in office. Like his counterparts in the UK, Canada and Korea, he has readied a to-do list, which has IoT and 5G at the top.

“Like we have a paper out on cloud, M2M, we want to understand standards, interconnection frameworks for those (5G and IoT),” he added.

India has largely played a catch-up game with the world when it comes to rolling out technologies such as 2G, 3G and 4G. The government wants to change this.

“Why should India remain behind? If 5G has come somewhere, why should it not come to India before others?,” Sharma asked.

5G trials are being rolled out across the world. Companies such as Ericsson AB, Orange SA, Verizon Communications, Google and Samsung Electronics have shown interest in or conducted field 5G trials.

The Economic Times newspaper on 20 October reported that a research team commissioned by the government to work on 5G technology has already filed 100 patents so far—of which around 10 have already been granted.

Typically, Trai does consultations with stakeholders and, based on its observations, sends its recommendations to the government. The government also seeks the sector regulator’s recommendations on various issues.

“I don’t think that these newer technologies can be entirely left for market forces to decide,” said Mahesh Uppal, telecom consultant and director at ComFirst. “However, they need to be regulated with a clear sense of cost and benefit. It needs to be regulated by exception, which means you don’t regulate as a rule but only when you see abuse. The government should seek to promote, not regulate. We will need a far more creative approach to prevent abuse of this technology.”

He added: “Secondly, these technologies involve considerable use of the Internet. They would have little value if there are controls on flow of data across borders.”