India has taken its first steps toward playing a more active role in wireless technology development, and not everyone is happy about it.
The Telecommunications Standards Development Society, India (TSDSI), a part of India's Department of Telecommunications (DoT), has come up with its own Radio Interface Technology (RIT) for rural coverage.
The International Telecommunications Union looks set to approve it as an IMT-2020 standard in November.
"The ITU process for declaring IMT-2020 standards started more than five years ago and is nearing completion this November," said Bhaskar Ramamurthi, TDSI's chairman, during an email exchange with Light Reading.
"TSDSI has participated in this process, and its RIT has reached the penultimate stage."
Besides leading the TSDSI, Ramamurthi is also chairman of the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, one of the country's premier technology institutes. It has now signed a partnership agreement with Keysight for the testing of devices based on TSDSI RIT.
TSDSI's hope is that RIT will play an important role in boosting rural coverage.
Penetration of telecom services in rural India is just 59%, well below the country-wide figure of 86% and an urban level of nearly 138%, according to the latest data from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).
"About 200,000 of India's 600,000 villages are three to six kilometers from a point of presence and they can be reached only using the RIT standard," says Ramamurthi.
"The Indian standard is therefore crucial for achieving 100% 5G coverage in rural India."
Yet RIT is controversial. While the TSDSI says it requires only incremental changes to the network, Indian operators worry it will drive up deployment costs and lead to interoperability problems.
"TSDSI RIT requires only software changes to implement in both the basestation and the handset," says Ramamurthi.
"There will be no cost impact on the products since only a one-time development cost is associated with making the changes.
"Interoperability between handsets and basestations compliant with the two IMT-2020 standards is being ensured. The concerns of the telcos are therefore misplaced."
He also said telcos would be able to deploy basestations compliant with either standard.
But concern goes beyond India's operators. The Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA), an industry association, has also drawn attention to interoperability issues over TSDSI-developed 5G standards.
Ramamurthi says the GSA's "apprehensions are misplaced."
Work on RIT started a long time ago, but the initiative clearly supports India's push for Atmanirbhar (self-reliance).
Home-grown standards could help India to cut dependence on Chinese equipment and build its own manufacturing sector.
Ramamurthi thinks RIT will have a "knock-on effect" on the broader industry.
"In this respect, this is indeed an important first step for India to emerge as a significant contributor to future wireless technologies," he says.
What is still not clear is whether India's operators will be required to use RIT.
"We strongly encourage the deployment of Indian standards in the country's rural areas so that the huge coverage holes in rural India can be addressed once and for all," is all Ramamurthi will say.
Jio, India's largest (and youngest) network operator, also recently unveiled plans for a homegrown 5G technology, which it plans to market in the coming year.
Ramamurthi declined to say whether it has any bearing on RIT.
— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading