India's government is making a serious effort to have an impact in 5G, the next-generation mobile technology in which operators are starting to invest.
It aims to launch 5G by 2020 and in its recent annual budget allocated 5 billion Indian rupees ($77 million) to 5G development. Some of those funds will go toward a mammoth research project involving around 200 researchers, students and teachers from the five Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT). (See India's Long Road to 5G.)
As part of the research, authorities will set up a 5G test bed to support telcos and startups with the development of 5G products and solutions. The IITs at Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad and Kanpur will work alongside the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore on this test bed.
But that is not the only initiative. India's Finance Minister recently announced that the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) will set up a development center to work on 5G technology in partnership with IIT Chennai.
IIT Delhi has also recently signed a 5G Memorandum of Understanding with Swedish equipment vendor Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC). As part of this "5G for India" program, Ericsson will set up a Center of Excellence, with a 5G test bed and incubation center, at the institute. IIT Delhi will also carry out research into addressing some of the country's unique challenges with 5G technology.
All of this comes in advance of planned spectrum auctions later this year. It also follows progress on the standardization of 5G new radio technology in late 2017.
But it marks a radical step for India, which has not traditionally played a role in the development of new technologies. With their rock-bottom tariffs, operators have been wary of investing in technology R&D.
What is generally accepted, however, is that a lot of 5G innovation is happening in the Asia-Pacific region, with China and South Korea playing key roles in this development. India is now worried about missing out, and some of its telcos are trying to become more proactive. Reliance Jio, perhaps the most innovative of the country's operators, recently organized an open source event, India Digital Open Summit, that tried to come up with India-specific innovations.
Even so, India's government will have its work cut out to make its presence felt in 5G. The sum of $77 million pales in comparison with the $800 million that China's Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. will spend on 5G R&D this year. South Korea's government, meanwhile, is already testing 5G in the 23MHz spectrum band, and will run a pilot in April this year. It also plans to hold a 5G spectrum auction in 2018. India's best hope may be that technology pioneers elsewhere take into account the particular needs of the Indian market. (See Huawei's $800M 5G Budget Piles Pressure on Ericsson, Nokia.)
— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading