India has achieved a remarkable feat by becoming the world's fastest country to launch 5G services, covering over 125 cities in just 120 days. With the expansion of 5G services to around 350 districts, India is now focusing on 6G technology, a mere six months after the 5G rollout. The government has revealed that India's 6G mission will take place in two phases: the first phase will occur from 2023 to 2025, while the second phase will be from 2026 to 2030.
The primary aim of wireless connectivity is to facilitate faster, more efficient, and increased data transfer between endpoints. The world has witnessed tremendous advancements in wireless connectivity since the launch of the first 1G technology in Tokyo in 1979, culminating in the current 5G technology and the anticipated arrival of 6G.
6G is expected to be even faster, more reliable, and more robust than its predecessor, with lower latency, larger capacity, and better connectivity. 6G networks will operate using radio transmissions and are expected to use new high-frequency bands, such as sub-terahertz bands above 100 GHz, to achieve their high performance. According to Minister of Communications and IT, Ashwini Vaishnaw, India currently holds 127 patents for 6G and aims to position itself as a global leader in 6G innovation.
The goal is to provide high-speed internet that is about 1,000 times faster than the top speed of 5G, offering ultra-low latency with speeds up to 1Tbps. This is expected to benefit machine-to-machine and human-to-machine interactions, as well as the development and use of virtual and augmented reality, mobile edge computing, AI, and other technologies.
By 2030, the government expects spectrum requirements to double from the current levels as India works to provide 100Mbps connectivity to all people or achieve significant 5G coverage in the next 7 years. India foresees 6G use cases such as remote control factories, self-driven cars, and smart wearables taking inputs directly from human senses. The government also intends to make India a leading supplier of advanced telecom technologies and solutions by indigenously developing the required technology.
The internet was first introduced in India in 1986, but it wasn't until a decade later that it became available to the general public. From its initial introduction to its current status as a necessity, the journey has been slow and steady up until 2018. However, in 2019 and 2020, India experienced a significant surge in the number of internet users due to the availability of cheaper and faster data plans, content in Indian languages, and the widespread use of mobile phones.
Additionally, the growth of digital payments and online shopping has been accelerating rapidly over the past year. The COVID pandemic has acted as a catalyst in driving this growth. This Vision document identifies key research pathways that are being pursued globally and that are particularly relevant for ideating new possibilities in the Indian context.
According to the India Internet Report 2023 by Nielsen, India had more than 700 million active internet users aged two years and above as of December 2022. Rural India accounted for 425 million users, almost 44% higher than the number of active internet users in urban areas, which had 295 million users. The report showed that there is still significant potential for growth in rural markets as almost half of the rural population is not actively using the internet.
The number of active internet users, aged 12 years and above, grew by over 20% Year-over-Year (YoY) to reach 595 million in 2022.The report highlighted that rural areas outperformed urban areas in terms of growth, with a 30% increase in the number of active internet users compared to urban areas’ 10% growth. Female active internet users grew by 27%, whereas male users increased by around 18%. The lowest population strata of below 100,000 towns and rural areas were the highest growth drivers. The report found that almost 90% of internet users were daily users, with the gap between urban and rural narrowing compared to the previous year. 93% of urban and 86% of rural daily users used the internet daily.
The study also discovered that there were over 450 million smartphone users in India, with video watching and video calling being the top two online activities among those aged 12 and older.
Digital news also saw significant growth, with almost one out of five Indians watching digital news, a 20% increase from the previous year.Although online banking and digital payments grew by 43%, the report highlighted that they still have a lot of potential for growth. Overall, the report emphasized the vast potential of the Indian market, particularly in rural areas, for internet and digital technology adoption.
The widespread adoption of 6G technology is expected to bridge the gap in regional and social infrastructure, economic opportunities, and e-services, which will reduce rural exodus and urbanization driven by metropolitan areas. This will ultimately contribute to fulfilling the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals and significantly enhance the quality of human life.
Furthermore, India's entrepreneurs can leverage technology to create innovative products for both domestic and global markets, thus transforming India into a prominent telecommunications solutions provider worldwide. India has a unique opportunity to use its space technology capabilities to provide broadband connectivity to its rural areas by integrating space and terrestrial networks.
This will ensure that all Indians have access to broadband connectivity, regardless of their location. The industry needs to leverage its software expertise to expand edge computing clouds quickly, making it possible for citizens to deploy compute-intensive AI and other applications inexpensively, and innovate in the emerging display, wearable, and sensor technologies to address specific user interface needs. Indian manufacturers can use these innovations to deliver competitive and cost-effective products worldwide.
India is among the world's largest telecom markets with a high dependence on wireless technology for broadband connectivity. However, the spectrum is congested, especially in the low and mid-bands where propagation characteristics are favourable. Apart from innovating on spectrum-efficient communications, we need to decongest the spectrum and find ways to allow mobile broadband networks to coexist with other users in the same bands.
The upcoming generation of devices aims to merge inputs from multiple sensors and devices, leveraging AI and ML to create a dynamic representation of users' surroundings. Machines will communicate with each other, acting in unison as desired by their human operators. The diversity of devices requires a healthy ecosystem to support the vast array of user devices and devices connected to machines.6G is expected to provide hyper-connectivity for seamless interactions between humans and machines, with new themes shaping 6G devices such as multi-sensory data fusion, precision sensing and actuation, and low-power devices relying on network power.
This connectivity can help India become a highly industrialized society and address social issues like healthcare and job creation. 6G can also support global sustainability goals and integrate terrestrial, aerial, and maritime communications into a more reliable and faster network capable of supporting a massive number of devices with ultra-low latency requirements. The next generation of devices will provide an ultimate experience through man-machine interfaces, intuitive interfaces, multi-verse maps, and mixed-reality experiences.
The vast array of devices calls for a healthy ecosystem, and 6G will play a key role in society's evolution towards the 2030s, supporting India's objective to contribute towards climate emergencies. Developing a strong technology that meets Indian interests and values, as well as economic and global societal goals, is essential. Extensive research in mmWave and Terahertz communications, fiber broadband, tactile internet, remote operations, multi-sensor man-machine interfaces, and edge cloud computing is underway. India aims to accelerate progress in AI, space-terrestrial integration, and combined communication and sensing in (sub) Terahertz bands, as well as innovative solutions from Centers.
To make this happen, India is currently looking to engage itself in extensive research and innovation in a range of technologies, including mmWave and Terahertz communications, fibre broadband, tactile internet, remote operations, multi-sensor man-machine interfaces, and edge cloud computing. To accelerate progress in these areas, India plans to participate in global standards forums and support start-ups, as well as focusing on AI, space-terrestrial integration, and combined communication and sensing in (sub) Terahertz bands, and innovative solutions from Centers of Excellence (CoEs).
In order to achieve these goals, it is essential to establish a strong Research & Development (R&D) funding mechanism, with contributions from industry, academia, and service providers. Priority research areas will be identified, encompassing theoretical studies, simulation, proof-of-concept prototypes, demonstrations, and early market interventions through start-ups. India's 6G Mission will aim to bring together all associated technologies, with sufficient financial backing, to enable smart traffic management, virtual reality/virtual navigation, highly accurate environmental monitoring, and other exciting applications of 6G technology.