Why Bharatnet is more critical than 5G
Why there is a need for rethink in the interest of a digital ecosystem. Pratap Padode analyses.
While we are still grappling with one of the lowest mobile internet speeds in the world, 5G is knocking at our doors. The global average of mobile upload speed is 11.22 Mbps while India's average upload speed is 4.31 Mbps. The Speedtest Global Index by Ookla in October 2020 has ranked India's mobile internet speeds at 131 (the rank rose to 128 in November 2020) for mobile internet speeds, much behind its neighbouring nations Sri Lanka, and even Nepal and Pakistan. India's average mobile download speed is 12.07 Mbps ( up to 13.15 Mbps in November 2020), much lower than the global average of 35.26 Mbps, according to the index for November 2020. Among South Asian nations, Pakistan showed 39.7% faster mobile download speed than India. Bangladesh was third for download speed, and second for upload speed. India had the slowest mean upload speed on the list at 4.18 Mbps.
Vi India was the fastest mobile operator over 4G in India during Q3 2020 with the fastest mean download and upload speeds among top providers. Airtel followed Vi India with a mean download speed of 13.58 Mbps, while Jio showed a mean download speed of 9.71 Mbps in Q3 2020.
There are differences in performance that occur in mobile download speeds for all cellular providers in the 15 most populous cities. So, Hyderabad followed by Mumbai and Visakhapatnam offer superior download speeds while Jaipur, Visakhapatnam followed by Kanpur lead in upload speeds.
Meanwhile Reliance Industries Chairman Mukesh Ambani revealed at the India Mobile Congress on December 8 that Jio 5G service will roll out in India in the second half of 2021. Airtel, too, is looking at 5G entering India in a big way in the next 2-3 years.
If 5G is likely to be here, we will be exiting the fibre and cable enabled network system to one that is delivered through satellite.
While 4G used ultra-high frequency to move generations from 2G to 3G to 4G, 5G would require super high frequency enabled through satellite broadcasting and therefore a very high bandwidth. By 2025, it has been predicted that 4G will continue to dominate with a 53% global share of mobile connections followed by 3G with 29% share and followed by 5G at 14%.
To give a perspective, a film that takes 26 hours to download on a 2G network and takes six minutes to download in a 4G environment will take just 3.6 seconds on 5G!
IDC predicts that by 2025 there will be 55.7 billion connected devices worldwide, 75% of which will be connected to an IoT platform. IDC estimates data generated from connected IoT devices to be 73.1 ZB (Zetta Byte) by 2025, growing from 18.3 ZB in 2019. Most of this data arises from security and video surveillance especially in smart cities, but Industrial IoT applications will also take a significant portion of this data.
India is already the second largest smart phone market in the world. The PLI scheme recently elicited a good response attracting several multinational companies from investing in manufacturing in India. India’s Bharatnet scheme which targeted connecting 250,000 gram panchayats by optic fibre network has been facing delays. Currently 162,154 gram panchayats have been covered as on 20 December 2020 as per the website. The project is also facing inquiries for having awarded wi-fi contracts without following due tender process.
Offering equal opportunity in the progress of the country is fundamental and the Supreme Court has declared access to internet a fundamental right. The ruling is in sync with the United Nations recommendation that every country should make access to Internet a fundamental right.
It is time to accelerate the Bharatnet project and complete it so as to not deny millions of their fundamental right, while 5G begins to gear up over the next five years.