Tussle continues over local 5G standard in India, 5Gi

5Gi India standard
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Indian telecom operators and global gear vendors said that locally developed 5G standard might not be interoperable with 3GPP’s global specifications, and making 5Gi-based networks mandatory will lead to higher deployment cost, resulting in delayed adoption of high-speed broadband service in the country.

The Telecom Standards Development Society, India (TSDSI), responsible for Telecommunications standards development in the country, has been pushing its 5G radio interface technology version, namely 5Gi. TSDSI’s 5G technology recently cleared the rigorous processes of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and has been approved by the SG5 of ITU as a part of Draft Recommendation IMT-2020.SPECS.

However, Indian telecom operators have raised concerns over performance gain compared to the globally accepted 3GPP standard and other issues.

“Issues relating to interoperability of the proposed (5Gi) specification with the global 3GPP specification still remain. Performance gain of the proposed specification compared to 3GPP specifications have not been established yet,” SP Kochhar, director-general of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), was quoted as saying by the Economic Times.

Kochar said that the adoption of the local 5G standard should be optional.

COAI represents all three private telcos — Reliance Jio, Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel, and multinational vendors like Nokia, Ericsson, Huawei, ZTE, NEC and Samsung.

Bharti Airtel’s CEO Gopal Vittal was the first executive to openly oppose India’s bid to bring its own version of the 5G standard. He recently said that the local 5G standard could pose an “existential threat” to the country’s telecom ecosystem, and it could lock India out of the global ecosystem.

“GSM won not because it was a better technology; in fact, CDMA was the better technology. GSM won because it was a more accepted technology, and more companies in the world embraced it, and the rest is history. GSM won because it became part of the global ecosystem, and CDMA died. In the technology world, the standard is what makes an ecosystem,” Vittal had last year said.

Interestingly, Airtel’s bigger rival, Reliance Jio, is reportedly supporting the local standard’s adoption. It recently said that the acceptance of 5Gi could lead to the first Indian IPR (intellectual property rights) on the global 5G stage.

“India’s standards body went ahead with the (local radio interface) study setting aside the apprehensions and shortcomings raised by the industry..the 5Gi was primarily meant to enhance rural coverage, but no further research was conducted to make it compatible with 3GPP standards even in case urban networks adhere to global standards and protocols,” an industry executive was quoted as saying by the publication.

Another industry executive told the publication that the local standard can be deployed only in standalone mode and cannot work together with service providers’ existing 4G networks. “…it does not have a clear roadmap to incorporate new and evolving features of 3GPP Release 16, Release 17, Release 18 and so forth.”

“For 5Gi, there is a need to check for evolution of the current specification, incorporating new features from the 3GPP in a forward-compatible manner…5Gi may be listed as optional, and the choice should be left with telcos to choose from 5Gi and 3GPP,” COAI’s Kochhar added.

TSDSI’s chair NG Subramaniam, who is also the COO of IT company Tata Consultancy Services countered the telcos’ version and said that the local standard would be a game-changer for the telecom service providers.

“…5Gi standard is very much viable for the wider coverage and other technical enhancements provided by this standard over 3GPP technology, and can be implemented by software changes,” NG Subramaniam told the publication.

He added that 5Gi will require only software-level changes and will not result in higher deployment costs for telcos in the country.

Earlier this year, the global mobile supplier association (GSA) wrote to India’s Telecom Engineering Centre (TEC) seeking adoption of 3GPP’s current specifications as national standards. “3GPP also has a well-defined roadmap for standards evolution with releases available every 15 months that are backward compatible,” it said in its February letter to TEC.

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