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5G: A BRAVE NEW NETWORK

With a ‘$1.2 trillion’ business opportunities in South Asia alone and a complete transformation of how a cellular network distributes data, the upcoming 5G network promises nothing short of a paradigm shift.

The speed that 5G will enable initially will be at least 20 times faster (1.4 gigabits per second) than the current 4G network is capable of delivering. This means it will take about 17 seconds to download a feature length movie with this speed.

According to BTRC data, there were 15.70 crore active SIMs and 9.13 crore active internet connections as of December 2018.

As always, in the real world the optimum benefits are not enjoyed universally and geographical location and service provider remain important factors.

However, companies have estimated that when allowed to stretch its muscles, 5G can be staggeringly fast. Leading wireless chip maker Qualcomm said it had demonstrated peak 5G download speeds of 4.5 gigabits per second.

Bangladesh is expected to achieve over one gigabits speed after the launch of 5G, but it is not clear if peak speed that will likely be enjoyed in developed countries will be available in the Bangladesh.

5G license by 2020, service from 2021

Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) said earlier this year that it started initial preparations for granting licenses to carriers for 5G data service in 2020.

Sajeeb Wazed, the ICT Advisor to Prime Minister Hasina, said that he hopes to make Bangladesh one of the first countries to deploy 5G in the world. Wazed made the comment when inaugurating 5G testing by Robi, which tested the new network last year in association with Huawei.

Bangladesh was using 575 Gbps of bandwidth at the beginning of 2018. By the end of last year it was increased to 913 Gbps.

Within this time, there have been 1.19 crore new mobile connections and 1.08 crore internet connections. According to BTRC data, there were 15.70 crore active SIMs and 9.13 crore active internet connections as of December 2018.

Telecom Minister Mustafa Jabbar said earlier in February that the state-owned Teletalk will be the first to rolled out 5G in the country. The government aims to offer 5G service in the country by 2021 and has started preparations regarding the rollout.

Globally, the new network will be available from this year in many countries. In the United States 5G is likely to be available for the public by the second quarter of 2019.

According to Qualcomm, Britain, Germany, Switzerland, China, South Korea and Australia are expected to follow the United States with 2019 rollouts of 5G.

More than just download speed

The true benefits of 5G network are much broader than faster movie downloads. The differences that 5G will make could be compared to upgrading from landline to mobile phones.

With the ability to handle huge amounts of data at lightning speeds and with near-zero latency, 5G enabled electronic devices will communicate bwteen each other extremely quickly, giving rise to hitherto unattainable possibilities.

Companies across the tech industry are devising big plans to make the best of 5G. In the US, carrier company Sprint has been planning to deploy the network and become the leading provider.

A 2017 Accenture report projected that the cellular communications industry in the US will invest $275 billion in new networks, which will create up to 3 million jobs and add some $500 billion to the United States’ gross domestic product. Consequently, researchers believe, the new 5G networks to help stimulate productivity growth to rates not seen since the 1950s.

Masayoshi Son, the chairman of Softbank, the company that controls Sprint, went as far as to say that the emergence of 5G will mark a turning point comparable to the ecological paradigm shift created by the Cambrian Explosion, a biological event 500 million years ago that gave rise to complex animals different from life with simple individual cells.

“At some point I am sure we will see the birth of a super-intelligence that will contribute to humanity,” Son wrote in Softbank’s 2017 annual report.

Sprint plans on collaborating with Softbank and other business partners to provide leading-edge services and applications for businesses and consumers. “We’re creating business ecosystems to accelerate change,” says Jan Geldmacher, president of Sprint Business.

Sprint’s goal is to increase top data-transmission speeds by up to 1,000 percent and to reduce the time it takes to transmit data to one millisecond, allowing autonomous machines to interact with humans on city streets and factory floors, for instance.

‘$1.2 trillion’ industry opportunity in Southeast Asia

Like Sprint, biggest carriers are already rushing to be the first in offering customers 5G services. The competition has caused billions of dollars being poured into to research from telecommunications equipment makers like Ericsson of Sweden and Huawei of China.

These companies are looking to secure lucrative contracts to upgrade the mobile Internet infrastructure of operators like AT&T and China Mobile in Asia. The research battle intensified after The Guardian in 2016 revealed tech giants such as Google’s ambition for its own 5G Internet.

A 2017 Accenture report projected that the cellular communications industry in the US will invest $275 billion in new networks, which will create up to 3 million jobs and add some $500 billion to the United States’ gross domestic product. Consequently, researchers believe, the new 5G networks to help stimulate productivity growth to rates not seen since the 1950s.

Huawei’s regional president James Wu at the Mobile World Congress 2019 said 5G will bring industry opportunities worth $1.2 trillion in Southeast Asia within the next five years.

“Southeast Asia will stand out with the fastest GDP growth around 5-6 percent in the next five years, and digital economy will be the major driver behind such growth accounting for 20 percent. We are committed to developing the digital economy of Southeast Asian countries, and collaborating with partners in order to build a digital ecosystem,” Wu said during an interview at the Mobile World Congress.

Wu predicted that massive commercial use of 5G in 11 countries and regional markets, such as India, Thailand, Vietnam and Hong Kong will start as early as 2020. In the next five years, the number of 5G subscribers in the region will top 80 million. Wireless, digital and intelligent equipment will improve ‘social productivity’ by 4-8 percent on average.

Despite getting into hot water with the US and other allied Western government, the ICT giant says it has received invitation from multiple countries and customers across Southeast Asia to 5G trials.

“I believe 2019 will be a significant year for 5G in Southeast Asia. Huawei, as the world’s leading vendor of 5G, will help all operators in the region realize their 5G dreams. We will continuously invest in 5G, broadband, cloud, artificial intelligence and smart devices, to help our customers maximize the benefits of this emerging technology,” he said.

Since last year, the Chinese tech giant has been facing challenges by the US-lead campaign that urges its allies to exclude Huawei from their 5G development, claiming the company’s technology would compromise national and user security.

Huawei denies the claims that its technology could be used for espionage, and claims that no evidence has been presented to support the allegations. Recently, the UK has concluded that the risks posed by Huawei 5G equipment could be mitigated.

Wu said 5G should not be turned into a political issue. “We proved with 20 years of cyber security record in Southeast Asia to all governments and people that Huawei can be trusted. I’m sure that they have a clear judgement. As an exemplar of emerging markets, Southeast Asia needs to cooperate with ICT vendors who truly contribute locally.”

Huawei has been investing in 5G for more than 10 years, and is recognized with 12 to 18 months of leading advantage in the market. Industrial experts argued that banning Huawei from 5G development could delay the entire network growth.

“I believe, the wisest and most pragmatic choice is to create an environment where all vendors can fairly compete with each other. Huawei welcomes competition, because it leads to the most efficient investment into 5G infrastructure, and benefits to the general public of all countries. My suggestion is, go digital, not political. And this is a choice that serves the interested of all stakeholders,” Wu said.

3-digit growth in data services

 Mobile handset manufacturers like Samsung, Xiaomi, LG, Huawei, and other industry players began promoting their 5G smartphones.

A number of leading and even some lesser know phone makers showcased at least one 5G smartphone for demo at MWC 2019. From the Galaxy S10 5G to the Mate X foldable phone, everyone seemed ready to provide users with a handset before the network could even launch.

The cost of mobile handsets, however, is likely to be a stumbling block for third world countries like Bangladesh and lack of penetration might thwart the glowing promises of 5G.

Carriers already struggle in Bangladeshi market to sell data packages because of prevalence of feature phones. With 5G coming into the scene, the lack of smartphone users will continue to be the biggest challenge to carriers for making significant profit.

But Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh (AMTOB) has requested the government to reduce some of the taxes on handsets, which will ultimately help get more revenue from the usage of data and other services.

Despite these obstacles data consumption will grow further and operators will be able to achieve three-digit growth in the coming years, Kabir told the Daily Star newspaper.

In the US, tower companies are going to gain most from the introduction of 5G, analysts believed. Bangladesh’s situation will be similar, particularly given that carriers will have to rely on towers until next generation transmitters capable of handling huge 5G data are available for deployment. Even then the four companies with license from BTRC for providing towers will likely get the business.

However, carriers will still make money from data services. Bangladesh’s top three telecom operators’ revenue from data services were Tk 4,149 crore last year, which is over 17 percent of their total earnings within this period.

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