5G: A Matter of India’s National Security

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This article is the last in a three part series that focuses on the global battle for 5G in the Fourth Industrial Revolution between USA and China, the choices available, Huawei’s rise and its association with Communist Party of China (CCP) and finally India’s 5G conundrums in rolling out next-gen services that will shape its economic and geopolitical future.

India was late to the 3G and 4G bus and has stated it will be rolling out its 5G services commercially in 2020 with the rest of the world. For the world’s largest democracy whose bulk population lies in the ages of 35 and below; 5G promises to revolutionize the economy. It can result in the speedy upgrade of its citizens to an affluent middle class economy in the next two decades. However, India will find itself in a precarious position between China and the United States where it will be forced to take a stand along with carrying out comprehensive reforms and forcing the bureaucracy to act in a timely manner. The Modi government’s lateral entry reform in civil service is a welcome change here.

It is important and absolutely essential to understand that 5G networks are much more than simple connectivity upgradation. 5G heralds the Fourth Industrial Revolution which means it is a time of great global churn. Industrial Revolutions have made and broken countries; Britain was the first to benefit which led to it becoming a global naval power till the United States took over post-World War 2. Further, with the era of fossil fuels coming to an end and data taking over, the next battlefield will move beyond the conventional. Hybrid, propaganda, cyber and space will become the new domains to master and conventional weapons will no longer prove to be sufficient deterrents.

The Modi government has set forth ambitious objectives of Smart Cities and Digital India to boost the Indian economy. Currently, most of India’s growth comes from a few select cities. This means that India suffers from large scale migration from rural to the urban areas leading to great stress of resources on a few cities that are simply not equipped to handle the scale. If India wishes to become a $5trillion economy, it will have to facilitate the creation of $1trillion states. Much of this growth will have to come from tier2 and 3 cities and the rural areas.

India also suffers from a severe lack of skilled staff. For all these issues to be addressed aggressively and timely, distance learning and digital connectivity is absolutely essential. 5G has the potential to completely transform the Indian landscape but equally important will be equipping Indian citizens to understanding the dangers of data violations and leaks. India does not even have a comprehensive cyber security and data security policy. It has just woken to the important issue of local data storage. Considering that the government wishes to also carry out all social welfare schemes through India’s unique ID program, a comprehensive policy is absolutely essential to prevent future mishaps.

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Any inertia of reforms and passivity of part of bureaucracy will make India miss the 5G bus again. While other countries have started rolling out 5G services, India is yet to decide on companies that will participate in its trials. While the industry body of Cellular Operators Association of India has urged the telecom department to recognize the significance of 28 GHz and 26 GHz spectrum bands for deployment of futuristic 5G services with the National Digital Communications Policy 2018 also recognising mid band spectrum in the 3 GHz to 43 GHz ranges as central to the country’s 5G strategy, India’s ISRO has refused to even partially vacate the (28GHz) band, citing critical space operations. Core members of India’s 5G Forum are now looking at 24.25-27.5 GHz and 27.5-29.5 GHz where some co-existence issues with satellites still need to be thrashed out. Conversely, USA, Korea, Japan and Hong Kong have already auctioned their high frequency spectrums. This is indeed a tragedy as India sends maximum engineers to the developed world and is well placed to emerge as a challenger and prominent player in the times to come but this passivity will again cost it precious time and opportunity.

Nitin Sapra, who represents Spectrum and Policy in South Asia for the Global Systems for Mobile Communications (GSMA) has stated that “The Asia-Pacific region is expected to have a particularly large influence on the nature of the economic benefits. It is expected to generate the greatest share of the total contribution of 5G enabled by mm Wave to the GDP of $212 billion. India’s contribution will play an important role. 5G has the huge potential of unlocking the digital economy of cities and states by upgrading the digital infrastructure. A very recent study conducted for Pune smart city with a population of just 3.5 million and area of 331 square kms states unlocking of an incremental 30% GDP valuing almost Rs 80,000 crores over the next 6 years”.

India has 2 primary challenges in rolling out 5G networks; policy and cost. As 5G is expected to use higher frequencies and small cells, it presents a significant cost issue. A 2017 study by Wireless Broadband Association states that Pune alone will need about 8,000 small cells, Delhi 36,000 Cells while Mumbai region will need about 105000 Cells for 5G coverage which is a huge discrepancy between existing and estimated towers. Similarly in terms of optic fibre deployment which is critical to Modi Government’s Digital India, Smart Cities and 5G initiatives, Pune will need 2650 route kms of OFC cable of which only 400-500 kms is currently deployed. In most cities, the gap between current and estimated ranges from 30-60%.  Adding to this the complexities for zonal, state and central permissions for towers and cabling only mean more delays. Though India has achieved last mile electrification, significant electrical wires still remain overhead creating downtime. As a result, telecom operators have to factor in higher costs or offer poor services which are often the case. In the absence of addressing the above, India cannot become a 5G country.

Considering the mammoth costs of upgradation, revenues the government is targeting from spectrum sales and substandard operator efficiency, India may feel tempted to go with Huawei which is offering low priced alternatives to 5G compared to Ericsson, Samsung or Nokia. However, this would be a grave mistake. Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it and if history has taught us anything, India must accept that it and China can never be anything beyond civil neighbours with a strong trade relationship. The Chinese mindset of not allowing two lions in a jungle is targeted at India and it will not permit any other country in Asia, least of all its neighbour to emerge as a challenger.

China has constantly tried to create trouble at India’s borders. It shares a relationship of closer than lips and teeth with India’s arch enemy Pakistan. In such a situation, India would be well advised to take note of US concerns about Chinese espionage seriously and not allow Huawei anywhere close to its network infrastructure. This article has explained the applications and potential of 5G above and a simple understanding should make things very clear why India’s data in 5G from health data to insurance, finance. Banking, pharma, logistics, emergency etc can simply not be trusted in Chinese hands and any promises by Huawei of signing “no spy agreements” must be taken with a very big pinch of salt. We must never forget that Huawei has repeatedly denied any association with the Chinese government or military when there is clear credible evidence pointing to the same. It has admitted to spying and theft. In short, Huawei is a habitual liar and its promises must be viewed in light of typical communist deception. Considering its mounting losses of $30 billion so far, India is a customer Huawei simply cannot afford to lose and yet lose it, it must; for the sake of a stronger and safer India.

Going with Nokia, Ericsson or Samsung could prove to be significantly expensive. There is also no doubt that such a choice will come with consequences as China will unleash its propaganda and terror machinery. Its sleeper cells in media and various NGOs will be activated. It will also use its trade imbalance with India as a weapon. China’s track record of honouring its promises from sharing water data to trade has not exactly been stellar. Considering that water shortage is becoming a global issue, China’s behaviour clearly shows it is not a responsible country and cannot be trusted to behave within the established global rules and norms. India must ask itself if Chinese actions of delaying India’s growth by nefarious means and preventing terror masterminds from being listed at the UN come from the weight of the trade imbalance; how would China’s behaviour be when India hands over its critical data to it on a silver platter. Finally, India must bear in mind that it has none/no major issues with South Korea, Finland or Sweden. Geographically, these nations are also located further and do not present any direct threat on India’s borders unlike China with whom India has already fought a war and faces regular border skirmishes.

When India took on the mammoth task of electrifying the entire nation, it needed 230 million LED bulbs. At the peak, they cost Rs 300 apiece. Four years back, India produced 10 lakh units monthly, now it produces 4 crore units monthly and prices have dropped to Rs 30-70. Everyone said it could not be done. Today, India’s LED scheme is a global case study. Nothing is impossible if India truly wills it and has political backing. India has the weight of 1.25 billion consumers behind it. This should be sufficient to go with a company that will take it to the peak of 5G infrastructure without compromising India’s national and strategic interests.

India must thus consider the adoption of 5G as a national security issue that has the potential to transform it and take decisions accordingly. 5G must be looked at something bigger than a wireless connectivity upgrade and must become a project of national pride for the Modi Government. India has the opportunity of leveraging its huge market that will only get bigger and more lucrative to gain better prices for its 5G infrastructure. Creating 5G infrastructure will need huge investments and in the background of very aggressive competition, tariff wars will be hugely challenging. Hence, if innovative funding policies or public-private partnerships need to be created to roll out top notch services, they must be done. Prime Minister Modi often says, “India is a country of 1.25 billion people. We can make our presence known in the world significantly with this number”.  5G is the perfect moment to make this statement a reality.

There can be no greater salute to Make in India that Smart Cities with driverless cars, robots, efficient waste disposal, smart electricity and living whose IoT applications are researched and tested in India to benefit the rest of the world. As a country that holds about 1/6 of global humanity, India holds a moral obligation to make an impact directly proportional to its potential. Industrial Revolutions don’t come along frequently and India must grab the coming one with both hands.  India will need to navigate through complex geopolitical battles and its limited resources to make the right decision for its 1.25 billion people. It may be the most daunting exercise for the Modi government thus far and it will need all its wits about it and diplomatic armour. But then, nobody said getting a seat at the high table was easy.

Part I – 5G: The Technological Cold War

Part II – The Furious Rise of Huawei


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