The 5G network in India is all set to go live with 5G spectrum auctions concluded recently. Telecom operators such as Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone are gearing up to launch 5G connectivity in India and will soon reveal details of tariff plans ahead of the 5G rollout. According to a report, 89% of smartphone users in India want to upgrade to 5G and mobile phone brands have been preparing for the launch of 5G network by seeding 5G-ready phones in the hands of consumers for the past 3-4 years now.
In first week of October 2022, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the India Mobile Congress in Delhi and announced the launch of 5G services in the country. At this event, Mukesh Ambani and Sunil Mittal announced the rollout of 5G services for Reliance Jio and Airtel, respectively. To add onto this, India’s Delhi international airport has now become the first airport in the world which is equipped with 5G network.
According to a report, 5G will approximately contribute Rs 36.4 trillion (USD 455 bn) to the Indian economy between 2023 and 2040. The report also states that manufacturing, retail and agriculture industries are predicted to benefit from 5G technology. Further, by 2030, 5G will make up more than a two-third of all connections in India. The 5G telecom services will enable the development, testing and proliferation of 5G technology system components, cross-sectoral use cases, besides laying the foundation for the development of the 6G Technology landscape in the country.
Deploying a 5G network doesn’t happen by turning on a switch. It will require an additional investment in billions of dollars to seamlessly implement 5G networks. With 5G, there is the SA (standalone) architecture and NSA (non-standalone) architecture. Most telecom operators in India have 5G NSA deployments as it uses the existing 4G LTE platform, making it cost-effective. As an industry practice, telecom mobile network operators begin deploying 5G services in NSA and gradually, move to SA. However, Jio has claimed that it will bring “true 5G” to India which means Jio’s 5G network could be built on full end-to-end standalone architecture. For this, Jio has recently partnered with Ericsson to build its 5G SA network. 5G will require a fundamental change to the core architecture of the communication system and India needs to be ready with a robust, scalable, and intelligent infrastructure that is capable of handling massive traffic growth.
India presents a unique telecom landscape where a multi-generational and cross-generational transition is evolving, therefore, telecom operators need to support a wide spectrum of hybrid technologies ranging from 2G to 5G. Like any other telecommunication technology (e.g., 4G, 3G, GSM), the technology required to develop, deploy, and operate 5G networks is protected using patents by several technology companies spread all across the globe. Before providing some insights into the patent ownership related to 5G technology in India, let us take a glance at the development and standardization of 5G technology.
The specifications for 5G technology are being developed by 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project). 3GPP is a union of seven different standard development organizations (ARIB, ATIS, CCSA, ETSI, TSDSI, TTA, TTC). These seven SDOs are known as “Organizational Partners”. One of the seven organizational partner, TSDSI, is an Indian standards development organization.
Telecommunications Standards Development Society, India (TSDSI) was formed on January 7, 2014 by operators and manufacturers, academia and R&D organizations working in the Indian telecom industry. TSDSI is an autonomous, membership based SDO for Telecom/ICT products and services in India which is an outcome of Indian Govt.’s National Telecom Policy 2012 (NTP 2012) aimed at creating an Indian Telecom SDO for developing telecom standards and to nurture the environment of IP development in India. Further, the country’s National Digital Communications Policy 2018 highlights the importance of 5G by stating the convergence of innovative technologies including 5G, the cloud, Internet of Things (IoT) and data analytics, along with a growing start-up community, that promises to accelerate and deepen India’s digital engagement, opening up a horizon of opportunities.
It is the result of efforts of TSDSI and its members that, in April 2022, an Indigenously developed technology related to pi/2-BPSK waveform was included in the 5G specifications developed by 3GPP. For people aware with 3GPP functioning, 2 change requests (CRs) submitted by members of TSDSI were approved by 3GPP RAN in their RAN#95e meeting for implementation in the 3GPP Rel-17 NR specifications. This was the first time that a technology developed by Indian entities was incorporated in the 3GPP 5G specifications. As the technology awareness and R&D activity in India continue to grow, there may be many more innovations from India which become part of the upcoming telecom standards.
Now, let us take a brief look at the 5G patent landscape of India.
The chart below shows the top-10 patent filers in India in the field of 5G technology. Huawei and Qualcomm lead the 5G patent filing in India. The patent filing in India is dominated by the global telecom giants with the top 5 patent owners accounting for almost 70% of the 5G patents filed in India.
As can be seen from the chart above that 3 of the top 10 patent owners are from China. This is an indication that despite geopolitical scenario between India and China, the Chinese companies are actively investing in Indian 5G ecosystem.
The chart above shows the top 5 countries according to the country of origin of the assignees filing patents in India. Chinese companies dominate the 5G patent filings in India and are way ahead of the companies from other jurisdictions. Chinese companies account for ~45% of the 5G patent filings in India followed by Korean companies which constitute ~16% of the total 5G patent filings. The patent filing from Indian companies is only 5% of the total 5G patent filing. This indicates that the Indian entities need to step up their innovation activity in order to compete with the global players and establish a notable presence of India in the 5G technology landscape.
Conclusion: The 5G market of India is in nascent stage and to catch with the rest of the world, India needs to encourage and boost its local 5G hardware manufacturing at an extraordinary rate. Further, for promotion of 5G, rationalization of the 5G spectrum pricing is needed so that the government generates adequate revenue from the auction without hampering implementation plans for 5G. Finally, it is the responsibility of the Indian companies, academia, and research organizations to focus on innovating in the 5G space and file more patents.