What can hamper India’s 5G dream?

According to industry sources, the motivation to exclude NB-IoT for smart meters is “unclear given that NB-IOT is the latest state of the art technology and is future proof”…reports Asian Lite News

As India gears up to launch 5G services in October, state-run Power Grid Corporation of India (PGCIL) is still going ahead with dated, obsolete technology to install one crore smart electricity meters, which can put electricity sector reforms in jeopardy.

The technology currently in focus is the latest platform and connectivity solution called Narrow Band Internet of Things (NB-IoT) that can work with 4G and 5G networks.

Tata Power Delhi Distribution, which supplies electricity in north and north-west Delhi, already uses NB-IoT in smart meters that collect and track the electricity consumption of a unit or a system that they are connected to.

The PGCIL first floated a smart metering tender for the smart meters based on older and dated second generation (2G) and RF mesh frequency in March.

Later, the PGCIL modified the tender to include NBIoT technology.

However, there was another revision in the bid on August 18, where the new and 5G-ready NB-IoT technology was again excluded by the central transmission utility.

NB-IoT is a cellular communication technology which is accepted globally. It provides enduring cellular technology in 4G as well as 5G deployments and is better for use in high-rises, basements and rural installations of machine-to-machine applications.

According to industry sources, the motivation to exclude NB-IoT for smart meters is “unclear given that NB-IOT is the latest state of the art technology and is future proof”.

One reason that the Power Grid did not go for NB-IoT technology can be that it is not yet widely proven on a mass scale.

The government has recently concluded a highly successful auction for 5G spectrum and the country is on the threshold of seeing the launch of M2M and other 5G applications.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has consistently been emphasising the importance and necessity of launch of 5G services.

According to industry sources, when the capability to offer the latest technology exists in the country, it is a highly “retrograde step” for a PSU to make a backward move and exclude the technology from its tender.

They said that it is essential that the latest technology be deployed into the power sector in order to ensure longevity of the systems being put into place.

Ignoring the latest technology defeats the very idea of modernisation, they added.

The Ministry of Power recently launched a Revamped Distribution Sector Scheme (RDSS) programme which aims to roll out smart meters to 250 million customers by 2025.

Panel lambasts lack of preparedness

The Standing Committee on Information Technology has raised concerns that India “may miss the 5G bus” due to inadequate availability of spectrum, high spectrum prices, low fiberisation among others.

Highlighting the concerns leading to the delay, the report of the panel chaired by Congress’ Shashi Tharoor said that it is “disappointing” to note that the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has hardly learnt from the past delays as the vision for 5G, which was reflected in the setting up of the High-Level Forum and Expert Committees, has not been transformed into action on the ground and is not reflected in the policies formulated by the government.

The panel, in its report, has noted that poor development of use cases, non-uniform Rights of Way (RoW), deficient backhaul capacity among others are also factors coming in the way of rolling out of 5G services in India.

“There are apprehensions that India is set to miss the ‘5G bus’ due to lack of preparedness, spectrum issues, inadequate use-case development, uncertainty around sale of radio waves for 5G, etc,” the report presented in the parliament said.

According to the report, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) has informed the panel that even though the report of the 5G High Level Forum has been released by the DoT in August, 2018, only minimal implementation instructions have been issued so far.

Spectrum issues which are at the heart of 5G are yet to be resolved, noted the panel, adding that the telecom service providers (TSP) have submitted that spectrum bands for 5G are yet to be identified and made available to them.

“The current reserve price of spectrum is one of the highest in the world, which needs to be rationalised taking into account per capita income and reserve price benchmarks of other countries, 5G trial applications have been submitted by the TSPs in the month of January 2020.”

However, till date the guidelines for trials have not been made clear and there is no set date for commencement of these trials, it added.

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