The 5G network roll-outs are happening at a blazing pace, but a dearth of applications and backward looking regulations is limiting the benefits India can derive from the modern technology, Airtel chief Gopal Vittal said.
Vittal said the second largest telco alone will be reaching each of 7,000 towns and over 1.5 lakh villages with its 5G network by end of FY24, but rued that a laggard ecosystem which has not kept pace by offering services does not help the telecom subscriber distinguish between the 4G and 5G networks.
“You need the whole ecosystem to come together, it can’t be just done by us. The telecom industry is working at a radical pace and I would say that it is the first time, the rest of ecosystem is not keeping pace across the whole ecosystem,” Vittal said, speaking at the annual Ficci Frames event here.
The telco’s chief said the company has already demonstrated the power of 5G through use cases like making children in a UP school give a feel of walking on other planets in the solar system or helping a surgeon with a complex operation. In the absence of applications, a subscriber using a spreadsheet or a word document will not be able to distinguish between 4G and 5G services, he said.
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Vittal specifically singled out the information technology services and entertainment sectors for not keeping pace with the changes that are happening on the ground.
He also made his displeasure with the ‘backward looking’ regulations very clear, saying the country has not been blessed with the same forward looking approach as it has seen in the past.
Vittal used the example of a home served by linear broadcast content to illustrate the “wild west” we are in from a regulatory perspective. The first home gets its content from a direct-to-home dish, where the operator is licensed and pays a fee of 8 per cent, the second home is served by the local cable operator who is also not allowed to dabble in content creation like the DTH rival, while the third is served by an application like Netflix, where there are no restrictions at all on licensing, licensing fees or owning content creation companies.
“This is breaking the back of the subscription industry. The incredible regulation which happened on one side, which is telecom, I think needs to move,” Vittal said.
The 5G network is not just limited to speeds, but is like a supercomputer because it connects the user to a cloud and allows for a much larger quantum of transactions to happen in parallel, he said, adding that this supercomputer needs the necessary regulation to flourish, and cannot be “compromised by the lack of a regulation”.
Continuing with the challenges in the 5G story, Vittal singled out the state governments and municipal bodies which have “complex rules” and ask for “usurious amounts of money to connect up” the fibre which is required to keep the network going, he said.
The Airtel CEO said 5G has the power to upend everything around us, even though he admitted that 5G speeds may decline over a period of time as subscribers grow.
“This technology will change the world, but it needs bold thinking by businesses, by the ecosystem and also in regulation,” Vittal said.