New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday launched the fifth generation wireless telephony services that promise to provide ultra high-speed internet on mobile phones and said it marks the beginning of a new era and presents an “infinite sky of opportunities”.
The 5G services began with India's second largest operator, Bharti Airtel, rolling out services in eight cities, including Delhi, Mumbai, Varanasi and Bengaluru.
Reliance Jio, the country's biggest operator with the most subscribers, will launch its services in four metros later this month. Vodafone Idea Ltd, the third operator, has not indicated any timeline for its 5G rollout.
Launching the services at the India Mobile Congress 2022, Mr Modi described the day as special for the world's fifth largest economy. “Today, 130 crore Indians are getting a wonderful gift in the form of 5G from the country and from the telecom industry of the country,” he said.
With speeds several times faster than 4G and lag-free connectivity, 5G can enable billions of connected devices to share data in real time and holds the promise of revolutionising sectors from health care and education to agriculture and disaster monitoring.
The 5G services will progressively cover the entire country over the next couple of years. Jio promises to do so by December 2023 and Bharti Airtel by March 2024.
Mr Modi said while the country was dependent on foreign countries for technology for 2G, 3G and 4G telecom services, India had made history with indigenous technology playing a major role in the rollout of 5G.
He said his government's vision for 'Digital India' rests on four pillars – cost of devices, digital connectivity, data cost and digital-first approach. The approach had led to mobile manufacturing units in India growing from two in 2014 to over 200 now, bringing down the cost of handsets.
Also, India has the world's lowest data charges, as tariffs fell from a high of Rs300 for a gigabyte of data in 2014 to just Rs10. Going by the average consumption of 14 GB of data a month, data cost has dropped from Rs4,200 to about Rs150, he said.
While internet users have grown to 80 crore from just six crore in 2014, optical fibre now connects 1.7 lakh village panchayats as opposed to under 100 panchayats eight years back.
The country, he said, is shipping phones overseas worth crores of rupees as against zero exports a few years back. Also, digital payments have increased.
Taking a dig at the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government, he said this was possible because of the right intentions of his government. "2G ki niyat aur 5G ki niyat mein yehi farak hai [This is the difference between intentions during the 2G era and 5G era]," he said in an obvious reference to the alleged 2G spectrum allocation scam.
All three major telecom operators demonstrated one use case to show the potential of 5G technology in India. Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Jio connected a teacher from a school in Mumbai with students in three different locations in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Odisha.
This demonstrated how 5G can facilitate education by bringing teachers closer to students, obliterating the physical distance between them. It also demonstrated the power of augmented reality (AR) on screen and how that can be used to teach children across the country, remotely, without the need for an AR device.
Mr Modi interacted with children from the three schools in the demo case, asking them about their favourite subjects and how the use of technology has helped in learning.
The Vodafone Idea test case demonstrated the safety of workers in an under-construction tunnel of Delhi Metro through the creation of a 'digital twin' of the tunnel on the dais. The digital twin will help give safety alerts to workers in real-time from a remote location.
Mr Modi took a live demo from the dais to monitor the work in real-time through the use of virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence and interacted with a worker at the tunnel in the presence of Delhi Lieutenant Governor VK Saxena.
In the Airtel demo, students from Dankaur, Uttar Pradesh, witnessed a lively and immersive educational experience to learn about the solar system with the help of VR and AR.
A student, Khushi, shared her experience of learning with the Prime Minister by appearing on the dais through a hologram. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adiyanath connected from Rudraksh Convention Centre, Varanasi.