Given the mass rollout time fixture for 5G, India is among other countries which is revving up policies, technologies, and possibilities for 5G rollout. During an exclusive e-interaction with Indranil Chatterjee, Senior Vice President and Kishor Panpaliya, VP of Americas and APAC, Enea Openwave, the enablers of 5G technology come in light discussing the challenges and scopes of 5G rollout in India. An Edited Nub below.
Q. In your opinion, how are Indian operators preparing for 5G?
Indian operators spent significant money and effort building 4G networks at a massive scale. Along the same timeframe, Indian consumers got hooked on to mobile data and internet services, thanks to the price pressure introduced by the new mobile operator entrant. India, of all the countries, truly need 5G as current networks are running at capacity and in some cases overcapacity leading to acute congestion and user experience issues. True 5G launch appears to be at least a year out and industry projections collaborate that i.e. 90M 5G unique connections by 2025 in a country with 1.3B population! That means 4G and 5G will co-exist for a long time to come. 5G can offer leapfrog opportunities for India where lower levels of investments in physical infrastructure has crippled growth. However, there are multiple headwinds (regulatory and financial included) that operators are facing as they plan for 5G. The Indian government plans to undertake 5G Spectrum auction soon, but, are operators (especially the ones hit hard with recent pricing wars and consolidation) prepared to pay the hefty reserve price tag? Some operators are more interested in defining 5G use cases first, prior to committing heavy spectrum and core infrastructure investments. For example, during India Mobile Congress, one of the demonstrations was regarding next-generation entertainment experience using FHD and 4K video streaming using multiple 5G handsets. As the streaming wars rage in India with Netflix, Amazon Prime, HotStar etc., 5G presents an enormous opportunity for operators to grab a fair share of the media and entertainment pie. Anticipating that 5G could be game-changing, Indian operators are increasingly putting more energy and focus on 5G preparations by conducting trials, changing their network architecture to be 5G-ready and developing some of the 5G core network IP in-house with the goal of reducing the overall operator cost of ownership for 5G.
Q. How is Enea Openwave preparing for 5G in India?
Openwave is now owned by ENEA and together our portfolio spans the mobile network from the edge to the core. Enea Openwave has a leading market position in the focus areas of Traffic Management, Cloud Data Management and Policy & Access control and these are fundamental building blocks of 5G core architecture. Enea Openwave is emerging as the most agile and innovative software provider for 5G Core Network Functions. We have more than 50+ Tier 1 mobile operator deployments worldwide and we are in the deployment phase for our 5G products in some of the advanced countries already. We have designed our platforms to ensure smooth migration and interop between 4G and 5G.
We have invested heavily in building a self-sufficient centre of excellence in Pune, Maharashtra, where we have cross-functional expertise including sales, product management, engineering and global customer support teams. A Tier-1 operator in India has already experienced the benefits of deploying our Traffic Management solution and we are in the process of expanding our footprint at other Tier-1 operators. There is significant potential in the Indian market for our solutions due to the exponential rise of mobile data traffic causing various customer-impacting issues like network congestion and video buffering.
Our plan for the Indian market is twofold. Firstly, we intend to leverage our global Tier 1 deployment expertise and significant local presence to create a win-win scenario for Indian network operators through our tested and proven core network functions. Secondly, we have mature OEM relationships with major network infrastructure vendors who have significant market share in India and are actively engaged in migrating the packet core domain to virtual machines or containers. Enea Openwave virtual network functions have been pre-integrated and certified within their platforms, offering our Indian operator customers an alternate choice of procuring our solutions.
Q. What are your thoughts on the mobile data plans in India – how in your opinion have they evolved?
Fuelled by large scale deployment of 4G networks and unlimited data plans at low cost, there has been a 56-fold increase in overall mobile data consumption in India in last 4 years. Since the introduction of 4G in 2016, the average cost of wireless data per subscriber has reduced by 95% in India. India has the cheapest mobile broadband prices in the world. Mobile data plans allowed India to skip wired internet altogether and make mobile broadband the backbone of Digital India with 1.2B mobile subscriptions. The new wireless operator entrant drove down the data plan cost sharply to gain subscribers and competitors reacted by matching or beating the price and the resulting hyper-competition created a situation where consumers are paying prices much lower than what they are willing to pay. This situation has to correct itself, particularly, when the consumers changing viewing habits & burgeoning OTT streaming services are putting enormous pressure on ROI dynamics for mobile operators. With 5G investments looming, operators will be forced to reevaluate the economics of mobile data and their pricing strategy.
Q. What are your predictions for the Indian mobile industry in 2020?
Mobile Video is an area where we actively track local and global trends and publish forecasts (Mobile Video Index) based on global data across 50+ Mobile Operators. We foresee a huge rise in mobile data consumption in the near term in India with the rise of streaming services like Netflix, Facebook, YouTube, Hotstar, TikTok. Enea Openwave predicts, by 2020 HD (High Definition) video would account for more than half of all video streaming content in India. As the percentage of HD mobile video traffic continues to climb, mobile operators need to allocate 3-4 times more bandwidth than what standard video would require. As a result, operators would struggle to cope as some networks may be stretched to the breaking point. Considering that subscribers now say mobile video quality is more important than voice calls, and considering that 5G is at least a year away, operators also could face increasing churn if they cannot maintain mobile QoE and take control of their networks and subscribers. We believe AI and Machine Learning based technologies would gain maturity in helping Mobile operators plan and manage for some of these challenges.
Q. You predicted, in 2018, 90% of internet traffic would go dark for operators. What are the proactive measures, you suggest, telcos should take to cope up with this? Tell our viewers more about your offering.
Encryption protocols from Google, Facebook and others continue to darken mobile networks for mobile operators. Yet, at any given point, operators need to ascertain quickly if the content on their networks is from Netflix, Amazon, YouTube or any other source. What definition is the video? Is it being live streamed or downloaded? What codec is being used to deliver the video and to what device? Because operators can’t manage what they can’t see, they need more than conventional traffic management technology to gather data and make informed decisions. To gain insight with analytics, operators need to abandon the old appliance-based Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) approach and adopt pure software solutions, like Enea Openwave’s Video Traffic Management solution. These solutions are designed to be software-based, agile and virtualized so they can be easily deployed in the cloud, with heuristics for encrypted video. Plus this technology allows operators to glean data that enables applicationbased metering plans or promotional add-on services for additional revenue generation opportunities.
Q. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Yes, one last point! Coming back to 5G and the investment, we believe that 5G presents a perfect opportunity for mobile operators in India (and worldwide) to re-architect their mobile core network to a much lower TCO and make all 5G network functions a commodity. The key to this architecture is a 5G common data layer that is open, cloud-native & simplified and allows operators to solve the problems of vendor lock-in by liberating state from vendor applications. Our simple message here to Indian telcos is “it’s time to liberate your data”.