By: Kamal Baruah
The mobile phone is an indispensable mode of communication today and we’ve heard a lot about the spectrum these days. In the past, most of the radio frequency spectrum is reserved for Armed Forces that played a strategic role in warfare while transmitting signals to distant installations, ships, and aircraft. Common people probably guess the spectrum about something to do with mobiles. The word was first used in optics to describe the rainbow of colours in visible light after passing through a prism. But spectrum means a range of radio waves that allow communication. Mobile devices, FM, and all those devices that have Bluetooth require radio waves. The word spectrum gained popularity in 2010-11 when India reported a 2G Scam; people followed it with massive interest.
The spectrum is a lifeline of the telecom sector. With Spectrum come frequencies, it’s the number of repetitions of the wave in a period. A slow wave repeat is called low frequency and a faster one is referred to as high frequency. Spectrum surrounds us. There would be complete chaos and the interference would be amplified. Thus, it needs to be regulated and thereby divided into bands. The telecom frequency range from 800 MHz to 2300 MHz is used for cellular communication like GSM, WCDMA, and LTE by every country to facilitate roaming services. However, India manages its spectrum effectively by dividing it into 22 Telecom Circles.
Cellular technology has transformed our lives and we often come across the terminology ‘G’. The evolution started with First Generation (1G) in the 80s followed by the revolutionary Motorola 2G in 1992 at a meager speed of 0.1 to 0.3 Mbps for voice calls and SMS. People poured out for mobile connection after 1995. 3G @ 1.5–7.2 Mbps in 2008 made it possible for web browsing when BSNL was incorporated. Nokia became a household name then. 4G @ 10–150 Mbps launched in 2012 enabling video consumption with higher data speed and 3D virtual reality. Free calls and data from Jio in 2016 led to India’s 4G revolution. Users on social network sites swelled. Consumers were hungry for more and faster internet bandwidth. With global data traffic doubling every alternative year, the world demands high-speed connectivity no matter what’s the tariff.
Upcoming Fifth Generation (5G) in LTE (long-term evolution) platform is the answer. 5G is not only about downloading/uploading speed at 50 Mbps, it reduces the latency i.e., the time it takes to send data, which could go as low as 1 millisecond (ms). 5G has greater bandwidth, and a wider area in the frequency spectrum giving higher download speeds, eventually up to 10 Gbps which will ensure no network congestion. In this high-band spectrum (30-300GHz), internet speeds have been tested to be as high as 20 Gbps as compared to 4G at 1 Gbps.
5G facilitates our entire ecosystem. Its application incorporates massive IoT (Internet of Things) that connects devices over the internet with the help of a cloud system to stream software updates and navigation data. AI (Artificial Intelligence) and leveraging machine learning have changed our daily lives while streaming of 16K videos and films is catching on. Several futuristic initiatives such as quantum computing, automated network management, virtual spaces & predictive cybersecurity, smart cities, smart farming, telemedicine, controlling of critical infrastructure, and self-driving vehicles are in the offing. That will be a real breakthrough and could be a critical enabler of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. 5G will surely enhance experiences and drive the digitization of industries.
Finally, the excitement about the 5G roll-out is about to begin in 13 cities of India in the first phase after auctioning spectrums to Jio, Airtel, Voda-Idea, and Adani recently. But there are hurdles in rolling out. India being a traditional late adopter of advanced technologies, still struggling to achieve the speed which 4G network offers. Our average download speed is 9.12 Mbps in comparison to the global average speed of 23.54 Mbps. The arrival of 5G enabling smart devices can be a game changer for better service delivery, faster access, and deeper penetration of digital services.
The critical question is how fast it speeds. In the real world, 5G, the low band spectrum travels long distances but delivers a slower download speed and the high band mm Wave spectrum gives a superfast download speed but it can’t travel far. Download speed also depends on how many people are connected to the network. The more people connected to a cell tower at once, the less bandwidth can be dedicated. Although 5G has a higher speed, the end users notice extra low latency due to open up of new applications in the IoT space. 5G rollout has issues with carriers and smartphone manufacturers too.
The 5G spectrum offers ultra-high speeds about 10 times faster than 4G, lag-free connectivity, and can enable billions of connected devices to share data in real time. It can download full-length high-quality videos or movies to a mobile device in a matter of seconds even in crowded areas. Aren’t the colours of the spectrum beautiful? And what’s more, the spectrum bidders have their day, while the government collected a windfall of 1.5 lakh crore, consumers are at loggerheads with the increasing data pack. And for that blazing speed, get your phone to replace or upgrade and be ready for a higher recharge. Consumers will soon see the true colours of the telecom spectrum hereafter. (The author can be reached at email@example.com)