India’s media environment has changed dramatically in recent years with the rapid growth of internet and mobile connectivity, but much of the country remains unconnected and the advent of 5G will bring a host of new challenges, according to a leading TRAI executive.

The roll out isn’t going to be anything like 4G, believes RS Sharma, chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), the governmental agency tasked with the job.

He told the recent India Digital Summit in New Delhi that 5G will be a huge challenge requiring heavy investments. (For more details, read WARC’s report: The 5G challenge and connecting rural areas: India’s telecommunications future.)

It’s not an incremental technology, building on 4G just as 4G built on 3G, he explained. “It’s actually a quantum jump.

“3G and 4G are means of connecting people, they are essentially one vertical which is being used in various domains. 5G is not a vertical, it’s a horizontal platform on which multiple services will ride. It does not increase speed, instead it opens up a number of applications which was hitherto not possible.”

But for that to happen, there will have to be $100bn investment over the next five to seven years and new players to provide the infrastructure.

There is also the challenge – and huge opportunity – of getting 800 million unconnected Indians online, something Sharma thinks could happen in the next four to five years.

“It may be possible that everyone would not have a smartphone, and therefore the solution to connectivity will be fibre, fibre and more fibre,” he said.

Only 7% of data comes from the fixed line in India, he noted, compared to the world average of 46%, “so there is a huge scope for growth there”.

Other ideas involve creating community service centres, “where every village panchayat (governance/administrative village body) has a service centre which is connected to the internet”, and enabling small grocery shop owners or small local players to re-set their bandwidth and distribute it at the local level.

Sourced from WARC