India looks to become a global telecom leader with 6G

The world's second-largest telecom market, India, is taking concrete steps to grow its profile in the global telecom industry by contributing to developing 6G technology.

Typically, India is a late adopter of new communications technology. The country also doesn't play a major role in the development and standardization of new technologies. For instance, it launched commercial 5G services only in October last year, while most developed markets introduced commercial 5G services a few years back.

The country started to take baby steps in developing new technologies with 5G to reduce the gap in bringing new communications standards. Significantly, India developed its own 5G standard, 5Gi, to enhance coverage in remote and rural areas with fewer number of base stations. This was approved by ITU. For the first time, India also gave 5G spectrum to the telcos to trial the technology. It also formed a 5G test bed for the development of India-specific 5G use cases.

India starts its 6G journey

With 6G, India has started making efforts much sooner and hopes to launch commercial 6G services along with other developed countries. Earlier this year, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) developed a Bharat 6G Vision document that sets the target of launching 6G services by 2030. It divides India's 6G strategy into two phases. While in the first phase, from 2023 to 2025, the country will identify new ideas and concepts that demonstrate potential, the second phase, from 2025 to 2030, is focused on developing these ideas for commercialization.

The country's 6G efforts got a further boost with a collaboration agreement between the Bharat 6G Alliance and the U.S.-based Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solution's (ATIS) Next G Alliance for joint research on 6G. Formed by the government of India, the Bharat 6G Alliance brings together the Indian industry, academia, national research institutions and standards organization. ATIS has also signed collaboration agreements with Korea's 5G Forum and Europe's 6G Smart Networks and Services Industry Association, among others.

Significantly, the International Telecom Union (ITU) has backed India's call for ubiquitous 6G coverage, which India hopes will help bridge the digital divide by providing fast and quality broadband services to everyone.

"Bharat 6G has been accepted by the ITU. Already our researchers are filing patents for 6G-related technologies. We believe India will lead the development of 6G technologies and standards over the next five years," Communications Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw mentioned in a recent interview with a national financial daily.

There have also been independent efforts by some stakeholders. Reliance Jio, India's largest service provider, has collaborated with the University of Oulu in Finland for the development of 6G. On the other hand, the Indian Institute of Technology at Kanpur (IIT-K), a premier engineering institute, and InterDigital, a mobile and video technology research company, have partnered to develop enabling technologies that impact future wireless standards, including 6G.

In addition, Nokia recently announced the formation of a 6G Lab in India, inaugurated by Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, which will also contribute to boosting the development of 6G technology in the country.

While these efforts are commendable and reflect the country's ambitions to make a mark in the global telecom industry, it may need to invest significantly to acquire patents for the development of 6G.

A case in point is China, which invested heavily in developing 5G and now owns 36% of all 5G standard-essential patents. This is more than double the patents it owns for 4G. Apart from investments, the country will also need to collaborate and partner with academia and industry bodies from all geographies to significantly contribute in the development of 6G. India now hopes to replicate China’s 5G success in 6G.