With telcos eyeing 5G deployments, India is poised for dramatically improved data speeds and lag-free video, with applications ranging from connected ambulances to cloud gaming to augmented reality-driven tests for shoppers, experts say .
The fifth generation, or 5G, would allow downloading full-length, high-quality videos or movies to mobile and other devices in seconds (even in crowded areas or during mega-events), supporting one million devices in one square kilometer.
Super-fast speeds (roughly 10x faster than 4G), low-latency connectivity that enables billions of connected devices to share data in real-time promises more immersive entertainment, 3D hologram calls, metaverse experiences, and redefining educational applications, even the way people play sports or watch.
While Indian consumers will soon see 5G rollouts in select cities, followed by broader coverage in 12 to 18 months, expanded mobile broadband is expected to be the initial key use case.
The new technology would, over time, bring applications to life that sounded far-fetched just a few years ago.
Retailers are experimenting with augmented reality (AR) in a 5G environment to curate immersive shopping experiences that allow customers to see what a new piece of furniture would look like in their home.
5G with hi-tech gadgets can transform the way education is delivered, even in remote areas, for example by welcoming educators or guest lecturers via powered holograms or streaming mixed reality content into classrooms.
Earlier this year, Airtel partnered with Apollo Hospitals and Cisco to demonstrate a 5G-connected ambulance that would act as an extension of the emergency room, transmitting real-time patient telemetry data, including vital signs, to doctors and experts in the hospital.
The idea is to capitalize on the ‘golden hour’ or critical first ’60 minutes’ after injury or trauma when immediate medical attention can save lives.
The 5G-connected ambulance has medical devices, patient monitoring applications, and telemetry devices that transmit the patient’s health data to the hospital. It features integrated cameras, camera-based headgear and paramedic body cameras connected to the ultra-fast, low-latency 5G network.
These life-saving applications are further made possible by technologies such as AR/VR (augmented reality and virtual reality). The demonstration was conducted in Bengaluru using the 5G trial spectrum allocated to Airtel by the Ministry of Telecommunications.
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Another case in point is 5G VR cloud gaming, a concept that market watchers say will excite gamers. Reliance Jio tested a virtual reality or VR enabled multiplayer cloud gaming experience on its native 5G network.
This trial represents a significant upgrade from console-based cloud gaming, as multiple gamers are connected to Jio’s low-latency 5G network with their VR headsets and gaming accessories.
Instant haptic feedback (tactile feedback or 3D touch), gesture control, and VR rendering leverage the high bandwidth and low latency of Jio’s 5G network, allowing players to react to gameplay with reflex actions in real time.
“Reliable sports and other streaming with zero lag or latency, mobile and cloud gaming, consumer IoT and AR/VR for immersive experiences… there are many consumer use cases for 5G,” said Nishant Bansal, Senior Research Manager, Telecom at IDC India.
Manufacturing and healthcare are probably among the most important early adopters of 5G.
“In manufacturing, to deploy and operate smart factories to improve efficiency and productivity and minimize human error. Industrial automation through the use of robotics and ‘digital twins’ are some of the other possible examples of use in manufacturing,” he notes.
According to a report by Swedish telecoms equipment maker Ericsson, 5G subscriptions in India are expected to reach 500 million by the end of 2027, accounting for 39 percent of mobile subscribers.
“5G and immersive technology will fundamentally change the way we live, work and consume information and media,” said Nitin Bansal, Managing Director of Ericsson India.
He cited an Ericsson report titled “Harnessing 5G Consumer Potential” to highlight a range of digital services being redefined with 5G and immersive experiences, including live sports streaming, enhanced video, cloud gaming, augmented/ virtual reality and consumer IoT services.
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Other use cases include autonomous cars (data exchange to avoid road collisions), 5G facial recognition payments, 3D hologram calls, AR cards, real-time translation, drone delivery, virtual shopping and more, he said.
An executive at a major telecoms company, who asked not to be named, said young professionals, tech enthusiasts and businesses would be quick to embrace 5G, despite the likely high price of such services.
While tariffs and plans are being announced by telecom providers close to launch dates, analysts expect average monthly realizations, measured by average revenue per user, to be up to 20 percent higher with 5G than with 4G.
“Mobile data prices in India are the lowest in the world, and even with 10-20 percent higher ARPU than 4G, India’s 5G mobile data prices will still be the lowest in the world for consumers,” says Bansal of I.D.C.
Vodafone Idea recently said it expects 5G to come at a higher price point with more data bundled with plans compared to 4G services.