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Indian PM makes highly ambitious 6G pledge

India is working towards the launch of 6G services by the end of the decade, we were somewhat surprised to hear the country’s prime minister announce on Tuesday.

Narendra Modi delivered an address at the silver jubilee celebrations of the Telecom Regulatory Association of India (TRAI) that was peppered with positivity about the progress India has made in the delivery of mobile services in recent years and the impact 5G is likely to have on the market. Nothing unexpected about that. But his comments on 6G were certainly ambitious at best.

“Connectivity in 21st century India will determine the pace of progress of the country,” Modi said, according to the text of his speech as published by the government’s Press Information Bureau.

“It is estimated that in the coming decade and a half, 5G is going to contribute $450 billion to India’s economy. That is, it is not only going to increase the speed of internet, but also increase the speed of progress and employment generation,” Modi said. “For rapid rollout of 5G, there is a need for collective efforts from both the government and the industry. By the end of this decade, we can also launch 6G service, for this also our task force has started working.”

You have to admire his optimism. After years in the planning, India is due to auction off frequencies for 5G in a matter of weeks – perhaps by the end of June – and it seems likely service launches will follow fairly quickly, and certainly before the end of the calendar year. There is still some back-and-forth between the TRAI and the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) on various aspects of the sale, but the wheels are now finally in motion.

Progress is positive, but it hardly puts India in the vanguard of 5G rollout… which makes it all the harder to believe that the country will lead the way on 6G.

4G rollout began on a small scale in India a decade ago and progress was relatively slow, particularly until the arrival of greenfield player Reliance Jio Infocomm around five years in. Given that the country regularly drags its heels on the auction of spectrum for mobile services, it seems unlikely it will hit the ground running with 6G. But never say never.

The country is working hard to foster a start-up ecosystem based on 5G, and the TRAI’s jubilee celebration coincided with the launch of a new 5G testbed dedicated to the development of the technology. India aims to be more self-sufficient in the 5G era, from a technology point of view, and Modei reminded his audience that there are now more than 200 mobile phone manufacturing units in India, up from just two at an unspecified date in the past.

Bringing device manufacture within India’s borders was driven by the desire to bring mobile phones to low-income people – “the poorest of the poor families,” Modi said – but the initiative has led to the country becoming a leading exporter of devices.

“Today India is the world’s largest mobile phone manufacturer, and where we used to import phones for our needs, today we are setting new records for mobile phone exports,” he insisted. Whether the ‘world’s largest’ claim is accurate is questionable, but there is no doubt that the devices business has grown exponentially in India.

Similarly, the mobile market as a whole has made great strides in the past few years. Modi harked back to the 2G era, which he described as one of “despair, desperation, corruption, [and] policy paralysis.” His words were perhaps more politically-motivated than anything, but there is no question that mobile phones were not accessible to great swathes of the population at that time.

“The country has moved rapidly from 3G to 4G and now 5G and 6G,” he insisted. “This transition is happening very smoothly, with a lot of transparency and TRAI has played a very important role in this.”

There are doubtless those that would disagree, but a jubilee event was never going to be a time for picking holes in the regulator’s actions. And the role of regulation will be increasingly important going forward.

“Today regulation is not limited to the boundaries of just one sector. Technology is inter-connecting different sectors. That’s why today everyone naturally feels the need for collaborative regulation,” said Modi, a comment that surely resonated with much of his audience.

“For this it is necessary that all the regulators come together, develop common platforms and work out solutions in better coordination,” the PM said. It’s a laudable ambition, but not an easy one to pull off. Particularly with an eight-year deadline for rolling out 6G.

 

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