India Mobile Congress 2019
A fusion of many worlds
Recently I had the privilege to travel to India and speak at India Mobile Congress (IMC). This was my first visit to India. What an amazing country, what an amazing event!
This was the third IMC event, and as in 2018 it was held in the Aerocity area of Delhi. The event itself is huge, playing host to more than 300 exhibitors, 75,000 visitors and set in 60,000 square meters of conference space. For comparison: Mobile World Congress 2019 attracted more than 107,000 visitors to a show floor that is about 120,000 square meters and DSEI used most of the 400,000 square meters of the Excel Centre (and some river space for the battleships !!) and attracted nearly 40,000 visitors.
The thing that is staggeringly different about the India Mobile Congress event is that it achieves this without using a fixed exhibition centre. The whole venue was temporary, constructed in just 20 days using huge industrial marquees for the housing and massive carpets to cover the floors inside and out. The power, lighting, air conditioning, staging and all of the exhibition stands were then constructed inside these temporary structures. The result was a highly professional venue that compares favourably with MWC; however when you looked behind the screens you could see the temporary nature of the venue, wires running all over the place, lots of portable air conditioning, lots of people finishing, fixing and maintaining the structures.
The event was themed “IMAGINE a new CONNECTED world” – why?
Well the event mainly focused on 5G, and like at all the other 5G events I have attended over the last 12 months there was much discussion on IoT, SDN and NFV, use cases and of course the business case for 5G.
But being India, the 5G discussion was spiced up with an Indian flavour. I learned that India tops the world for smartphone data usage, with average monthly mobile data usage per smartphone of 9.8GB. This is not surprising when you consider India has some of the cheapest mobile data rates in the world, with an average cost of $0.26 for 1GB of data (as compared to a global average is $8.53 for 1GB of data). And the growth potential is vast; only 30% of India’s 1.4B people actually owns a smartphone, and indeed telecoms penetration is currently at around 60%. To address this, in September last year, the Indian government unveiled its ambitious National Digital Communications Policy. In this document it outlined its telecommunications targets: connectivity to all uncovered areas - with 50Mbps connectivity to every citizen, 1Gbps connectivity to all Gram Panchayats by 2020 - upgradable to 10Gbps by 2022.
These are particularly ambitious targets for any country, but incredibly tough in India where 70% of India’s population live in rural areas and 20% of India’s population do not even have access to mains power!!! I am reminded of the picture I saw at the PowerGen conference in Indonesia last year, where there was a rural village with no mains power, but each of the huts in the village had a solar cell mounted on a pole. This cell provided enough power to charge a mobile phone – but not much more.
Mobile in general, and 5G in particular, is essential if the Indian government is to come even close to meeting these ambitious targets. So in India, 5G truly does represent an opportunity for “a new connected world”. But putting up antennas and attaching radios to these antennas to give coverage to India’s remote population is not the only challenge, although getting enough of the right frequency spectrum is a real issue at present.
An equally problematic challenge is putting a new backhaul infrastructure in place to support this massive connectivity and capacity. A new, low cost, next generation IP and Optical transport network is needed. This network must be cost efficient, maximise network utilization and meet current and future consumer needs. The network must be dynamic enough to allow new access nodes to be added whenever and wherever required. The network must allow capacity, connectivity and compute resources to be allocated wherever required to support new service types and follow consumer demand for these services. At the same time the transport network must be highly deterministic. India probably more than any other country can benefit from the services that 5G enables with uRLLC, e.g. remote health, smart transportation, smart power networks etc. And uRLLC relies on a transport network with measurable, configurable, determinism.
The need for this next generation transport network was not lost on the panelists at the event. There were many panelists that highlighted the need for governmental and state support in putting the mechanisms in place to allow the deployment of the fiber that will make this transport network, and hence 5G network, a reality.
I will take with me a lasting memory of how India is a fusion of many totally different worlds; state of the art companies and high technology, nestling check by jowl with poverty. The India Mobile Congress and the telecommunications network discussed there, is a microcosm of this dichotomy. A massive, state of the art conference venue, hosting some of the most advanced technology companies in the world, built in just 20 days - using tents and carpets!! The world’s biggest users of data on smart phones, but 40% of the population does not have access to comms and 20% don’t even have mains power!!
However, telecommunications, and 5G in particular, has the potential to bring these worlds closer together. As our CEO, Darryl Edwards said on his panel, “if you think of 5G as just being an evolution of 4G you are starting with the wrong mind-set”. The dream of 5G is not, and should not, only be about giving more capacity to those that already have it. Nowhere is this more true than in India, where 5G has the potential to bring about major societal change and help bridge some of the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’.
As for the heat, the noise, the hustle and bustle and the incredible friendliness of the people - these will remain a lasting memory, almost impossible to explain.
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