The Bangladesh government has pledged to have 5G introduced in the country by 2021. However, the debate rages on over whether the dreams of the utopia promised by this technology is coherent with the realities of a market that could still be struggling to adopt the existing benefits of mobile bandwidth. The question of whether it should be adopted may rely on realistic use cases, availability of the technology to the masses and its relevance to the nation’s context.
Filling the Generation Gap
The previous generations of mobile networks have been 1G, 2G, 3G, and 4G respectively. The first generation (1G) delivered analog voice in the 1980s. 2G or Second generation introduced digital voice (eg CDMA- Code Division Multiple Access) in the early 1990s. The Early 2000s saw third generation or 3G bring mobile data (e.g. CDMA2000) in the hands of the masses. Then, the fourth generation, better known as 4G LTE, became available in the 2010s 4G LTE and welcomed the age of mobile broadband. 1G, 2G, 3G, and 4G all have steered the way for 5G.
The 5G Frontier
5G, as the 5th generation mobile network, it is designed to provide more connectivity than ever available in all past eras. 5G allows a new class of network that is intended to connect virtually everyone and everything together including machines, objects, and devices. The higher performance and improved efficiency is intended to empower new user experiences and connect new industries.
The 5th Generation Advantage
While 4G LTE focused on providing quicker mobile broadband services than its predecessor 3G, 5G is designed to be a unified, more efficient. 5G can also natively support all spectrum types (licensed, shared, unlicensed) and bands (low, mid, high), a wide range of deployment models (from traditional macro-cells to hotspots), and new ways to interconnect (such as device-to-device and multi-hop mesh).
Qualcomm states the following reasons why making the jump from 4G to 5G would make sense:
• 5G is significantly faster than 4G
• 5G has more capacity than 4G
• 5G has significantly lower latency than 4G
• 5G is a unified platform that is more capable than 4G
• 5G uses spectrum better than 4G
Futuristic Use Cases
5G is used across 3 main types of connected services:
• Enhanced mobile broadband
As well as making our smartphones better, 5G mobile technology can usher in new immersive experiences such as VR and AR with faster, more uniform data rates, lower latency, and lower cost-per-bit.
• Mission-critical communications
5G can enable new services that can transform industries with ultra-reliable, available, low-latency links like remote control of critical infrastructure, vehicles, and medical procedures.
• Massive IoT
5G is meant to seamlessly connect a massive number of embedded sensors in virtually everything through the ability to scale down in data rates, power, and mobility—providing extremely lean and low-cost connectivity solutions.
Benefits for Bangladesh
4 main categories of beneficiaries in Bangladesh are subject to benefit from the arrival of 5G.
Explosive growth in video traffic as mobile is increasingly becoming the source of media and entertainment, as well as the massive growth in always-connected cloud computing, ride sharing, food delivery and more and experiences Dtac Vice President Reduan Hasan Khan explained that this will contribute to cutting-edge user experiences such as boundless seamless IoT capabilities, extreme reality (XR), new enterprise applications, local interactive content, instant cloud access, HD streaming and gaming services, seamless video conferencing and sharing, as well as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) services among others.
With high data speeds and superior network reliability, 5G will enhance the efficiency of businesses while also giving users faster access to more information. Reduan believes, for example, smart factories could use 5G to run industrial Ethernet to help them increase operational productivity and precision. Another opportunity will also help the fledgling SME and Corporate businesses of the country to migrate to Cloud supporting various cloud-based software, unified communication and conferencing needs. Furthermore, the companies in the RMG, Pharmaceuticals and FMCG sectors will be able to utilize various assembly line and supply chain automation techniques. Conversely, asset tracking, logistics & workers’ safety apps can help the businesses to improve their productivity.
According to Qualcomm, smart cities could use 5G to provide greater efficiencies like more connectivity between people and things, higher data speeds, and lower latency than ever before in areas like automotive safety, infrastructure, VR, and entertainment. The Dtac Head of B2B Products writes in his blog that 5G powered Smart Cities can implement use-cases like smart parking, smart waste-management, smart street-lights, smart public safety, etc. and enable smart decision making and planning to optimize the quality of life for citizens and increase productivity.
Reduan suggests in his Linkedin Blog, that the most transformative impacts of 5G will be in the government sector for Bangladesh. He explains that 5G can accelerate implementation of Smart Grid/Utilities in Bangladesh to a great extent, enabling use-cases like smart metering, service quality monitoring, fault localization, automation and control, infrastructure management and demand management. In addition, 5G can help the government implement digitization and automation projects across several sectors like health, education and agriculture.
Mobile Data Growth in Bangladesh
Even though Bangladesh has already reached a 100% mobile penetration rate sometimes users cannot talk on 3G, they don’t get any speed on 4G, and the network is rare on 2G. The 4G service rolled out in December 2016 by Teletalk and in February of 2018 by the three private operators. The initial eagerness for fourth generation (4G) mobile services started to fall off in the absence of reasonably priced 4G-enabled handsets in the country, a report quoted the 2nd largest mobile phone operator Robi’s officials. The telecom industry had invested Tk 32,000 crore in total for 3G but the revenue from it was only Tk 7,000 crore. This is not a positive growth trajectory for the 4G-enabled handset penetration to follow. Currently smartphone penetration in Bangladesh is around 40% of which approximately only half of the handsets are 4G-enabled. The majority of the country still uses 2G enabled phones and this is projected to GSMA phones to be a trend that will continue to dominate.
The Telco Angle
In an interview with a local newspaper, Banglalink’s Chief Executive Officer Erik Aas agreed with telco Robi top boss, Mahtab Uddin Ahmad that this is not the right time to go for 5G. Aas said it will be costly as opposed to the investment and utilization. The Norwegian CEO further explained that from a technological viewpoint, having access to smartphones and digital services in the next few years was not more important than high-speed internet to the general people. The top boss of this Banglalink posed a very relevant question that even if 5G may result in industry automation, driverless cars on Dhaka’s roads and a digitized harbour at Chattogram port, do these services exist in the metros presently let alone the majority of the country? Moreover, he explained Covid-19 has taught that while there is a need for digitization not everyone had the means to own devices to reap the benefits of accessing data on the internet. According to Reduan, the key features of 5G, i.e. speed, reliability and capacity mainly come from more and new bands of spectrum. Price and allocation modality of spectrum will play a major in the business cases of the 5G operators.
Additionally, the comparatively high spectrum price in Bangladesh is another factor that all telco stakeholders may see as a great impediment to launch 5G. Reduan comments that unlike 2G/3G/4G, the use-case driven 5G technology requires close engagements with devices and application developer communities, government agencies and telecom industry. Taxation regime for IoT sensors/devices and connectivity (e.g. SIM TAX, VAT/SD/SC) needs to be reformed to encourage proliferation of IoT applications. The Dtac B2B Device Boss blogs that as 5G networks are expected to become the backbone of many critical national IT applications, such as Smart City, Smart Grids, Healthcare, etc. the integrity and availability of those networks will become major concerns and challenges from a national security perspective. To access the 5G service you need a 5G enabled phone and the cost to upgrade may not be accessible to everyone’s wallets in a lower middle income nation.
The Next Generation
5G can improve economic growth, enhance citizen experiences and expedite commercial prospects. However, the implementation of 5G in Bangladesh is unique compared to other countries as the South Asian nation is leap-frogging from a complete analog to a digital economy (bypassing many intermediary steps). Moreover, though there may exist potential benefits, without a proper plan, market players have shown significant skepticism regarding the investment case of 5G. This can be improved if carefully crafted with realistic spectrum, infrastructure, taxation and cloud hosting policies. If addressed, this can reduce business doubts and create a promising investment climate for the beneficiaries of this technology. Joining the 5G bandwagon without a proper consumer and business friendly roadmap would most definitely not be in Bangladesh’s best interest. However, not treading onto the 5G wave at all would inhibit at least a generation of citizens and institutions from building a vibrant 5G based ecosystem.