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5G standalone in India

5G standalone in India

Large-scale 5G SA deployment to drive digital transformation in India

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5G is foundational for India’s digital transformation. Through ambitious, large-scale deployment of 5G standalone (SA), Jio aims to capture the business opportunity for the consumer and enterprise segments.


Key findings

Enabling innovation

Fast and extensive deployment of 5G SA coverage and network slicing enables new business models and innovation for different market segments.

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FWA and network slicing

5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) with network slicing is a key differentiator driving transformation of residential and enterprise connectivity.

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At the forefront of XR

Jio considers that being at the forefront of evolving use cases in network automation, network slicing and XR provides a competitive edge in the market.

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Jio entered the mobile broadband market by deploying a greenfield 4G network in 2016. When services were launched in September that year, the network had already reached 80 percent population coverage, sparking intense competition among service providers and causing strong growth in 4G subscription uptake and data usage. Within 5 months of launch in September 2016, Jio’s 4G subscriptions passed 100 million. By March 2023, total mobile broadband subscriptions in the country increased to over 830 million, with Jio contributing 53 percent of the base, and skyrocketing average total data usage per subscriber in India from 240 MB to 17.4 GB per month over the same period. Consequently, India’s share of global mobile data traffic increased from around 3 percent to 20 percent during this time.

4G made India digital

4G coverage build-out and affordable data plans played a significant role in transforming India’s digital landscape. The widespread availability and increased penetration of mobile broadband internet subscriptions fueled consumption of the wide range of new digital services and applications made available by the growing domestic ecosystem. Faster mobile broadband speeds encouraged the adoption of video streaming, social networking, e-commerce, online education and digital payments. The digital transformation brought about by 4G positively impacted the country’s economy, creating job opportunities, driving entrepreneurship and launching many start-ups. The government’s Digital India program, launched in 2015, also gained momentum, making governance more efficient and accessible to citizens by providing public services digitally.

5G as a foundation for digital transformation

The Indian government’s spectrum auction in July 2022 and Jio’s acquisition of spectrum across low-band (700 MHz), mid-band (3.5 GHz) and high-band (26 GHz) have enabled rapid 5G expansion. 5G is expected to enable the next phase of growth and transformation in India’s digital landscape, supporting the vision to transform the country into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy.1 Indian 5G subscribers are experiencing significantly better mobile network speeds, as 5G SA coverage and capacity continue to be deployed. 5G users in India consistently rate their service providers more positively compared to 4G users, indicating higher customer satisfaction (measured with a Net Promoter Score, or NPS).2

Jio has established itself at the forefront of 5G SA deployments in India, with a firm belief that 5G can catalyze economic growth by fostering innovation in various sectors, including manufacturing, healthcare, agriculture, transportation and education.

These innovations can lead to job creation and increased economic productivity, a key goal of India’s digital transformation efforts.

5G can also help India meet its ambitious climate commitments and sustainable development goals by improving environmental monitoring and conservation efforts, for example by providing real-time data on climate, pollution and wildlife tracking.

Jio image

This article was written in collaboration with Jio, a leading communications and digital services provider deploying 5G everywhere for consumers and enterprises across India.

Deploying nationwide 5G SA coverage at scale and speed

Jio has deployed true 5G capabilities by adopting a 5G SA architecture from day one, making it a global pioneer in this regard. Jio pursues a multi-band strategy, with 5G deployments in low-band (700 MHz), mid-band (3.5 GHz) and mmWave (26 GHz). The strategy is to maximize the Massive MIMO coverage on mid-band, by configuring layer management and carrier aggregation features of 5G SA networks. This optimizes mid-band usage over low-band (coverage layer).

Jio’s 5G FWA portfolio (AirFiber) of 5G SA and Smart UBR, with its low-latency and high-capacity capabilities, is delivering residential broadband as well as business-connectivity solutions for small, medium and large enterprises.

The broader context of India’s digital transformation and socio-economic development goals must be considered to understand Jio’s decision to choose 5G SA over non-standalone (NSA), despite the relatively nascent state of the 5G SA ecosystem at that time. It is a forward-looking strategy that enables Jio to provide truly differentiated 5G services in a highly competitive market. Jio foresees growing demand for services that utilize the inherent capabilities of 5G SA networks, such as low latency, massive machine-to-machine communication and network slicing. Nationwide 5G SA network deployment has had a significant impact on the 5G SA ecosystem, with a noticeable growth in SA-supported devices. All new 5G devices released in India support SA and more than 90 percent support carrier aggregation and Voice over New Radio (VoNR) out of the box. 5G SA provides greater control over network resources, allowing for more defined service quality and enhanced customization of services compared to NSA architecture.

Jio is set to complete the world’s fastest and largest nationwide mid-band 5G rollout outside of China by the end of 2023. In just 12 months after launch in October 2022, it has deployed more than 1 million 5G cells, deploying one 5G cell every 10 seconds at the peak of the rollout. This is stated to account for more than 85 percent of the country’s deployed 5G capacity.3

The speed of deployment is facilitated by an ahead-of-time infrastructure upgrade, high fiberization and optimal use of E-Band and unlicensed band radio (UBR) for backhaul.

The deployment strategy also encompasses a strong focus on network performance using advanced layer management and optimization with a fully automated self-organizing network (SON). It also encompasses deployment of true 5G services using fully automated service orchestration and management functions.

Subscription and traffic growth follow coverage build-out

Jio is building 5G coverage and capacity at scale and speed to ensure it can drive new customer acquisition through offering high-quality services, and migrate its 4G customers to 5G at a faster pace. In October 2023, Jio announced that it had reached 70 million 5G customers in less than 11 months from its 5G services launch.

The wide deployment of 5G SA on mid-band spectrum and carrier aggregation has driven substantial growth in data consumption. Jio’s monthly total network data traffic has experienced a 29 percent year-over-year growth. Jio’s ambition to offer a best-in-class network to their consumers is reflected in the fast 5G SA coverage build-out and mobile broadband speed improvements, as shown in Figures 27 and 28. Third-party Speedtest® measurements on the 5G network have resulted in awards for providing best customer experiences in speed, video and gaming.4 On a country-wide scale, 5G subscribers are also more satisfied with network performance compared to 4G subscribers. In a recent Ericsson ConsumerLab study comparing consumers' satisfaction with 4G versus 5G network performance – in various aspects such as mobile gaming, video streaming, download speeds and video calling – it was found that 5G consumers in India consistently report significantly higher levels of satisfaction, with a nearly 30 percent increase compared to 4G users.5 All this is being enabled by ubiquitous 5G coverage, carrier aggregation between mid-band and low-band, and deployment of Massive MIMO radios at each site.

Figure 26: Jio’s data traffic has grown more than 10 times in the past 6 years

Note: 2018–2023 are fiscal years. Data traffic for the first half of 2024 is annualized.

Due to its wide coverage build-out, Jio has also offloaded significant traffic from the 4G to 5G network, improving the experience of its 4G customers. A fast migration of the 4G subscriber base to 5G subscriptions will free up 4G network capacity for new subscribers. India has around 250 million 2G subscribers, which Jio targets for migration to 4G by offering a low-cost 4G phone (USD 12) and an affordable service plan.

Jio considers two factors to be critical for 5G uptake: building ubiquitous 5G coverage, providing high-speed, low-latency connectivity to consumers everywhere; and implementing dynamic network slicing to seamlessly deliver immersive experiences. These two factors will also be key enablers for the introduction of XR services to customers.

Figure 27: 5G test samples. Analysis of Speedtest®, Jio India

5G test samples. Analysis of Speedtest®, Jio India

October 2022

5G test samples. Analysis of Speedtest®, Jio India

April 2023

5G test samples. Analysis of Speedtest®, Jio India

September 2023

Source: Based on analysis by Ericsson of Ookla® Speedtest Intelligence® data, India, Oct 2022, April 2023, Sept 2023.

Figure 28: Network performance. Analysis of Speedtest®, Jio India

 Network performance. Analysis of Speedtest®, Jio India

October 2022

 Network performance. Analysis of Speedtest®, Jio India

April 2023

 Network performance. Analysis of Speedtest®, Jio India

September 2023

Note: Jio 4G/5G access. The regions are colored based on median speeds (0–200 Mbps). Source: Based on analysis by Ericsson of Ookla® Speedtest Intelligence® data, India, Oct 2022, April 2023, Sept 2023.

Challenges with fast 5G deployment in India

When rolling out 5G, the physical sites such as cell towers and related infrastructure must be ready for the new technology. Deployment is highly dependent on automation, but human expertise still plays a significant role. One of the major challenges in 5G network management and troubleshooting is process automation and ensuring that the workforce possesses the required skills and knowledge. Jio tackled this challenge by leveraging AI and proactively automating the complete plan to build processes and provide its workforce with extensive training to bridge any competence gaps.

Consumers have high expectations when it comes to the quality and performance of 5G networks. However, meeting these expectations is a complex challenge that requires optimizing the network, addressing potential issues such as signal interference and latency and ensuring a seamless user experience. Jio conducted thorough testing and network fine-tuning to ensure that its 5G SA network can handle the anticipated loads.

Network slicing opens new opportunities

Jio’s approach to network slicing is grounded in its potential and the challenges that need to be overcome. Jio has implemented end-to-end network slicing for its FWA service, providing residential customers with digital entertainment, smart home services and high-speed broadband, without impacting the experience of its mobility customers. Currently, it’s employing service- and user-level slicing, while keeping a keen eye on the evolving ecosystem for application-level slicing. As slicing business models are still in their infancy, Jio recognizes that it’s crucial to collaborate with industries and enterprises to co-create value propositions concerning slicing solutions.

Jio is actively working with device partners and application providers to build innovative services in various sectors, including healthcare, education, retail, manufacturing and security and surveillance solutions. Jio is also collaborating with enterprise partners to identify areas where slicing benefits can substantially impact their operations. This collaborative approach is helping Jio to develop a robust business case and ensures that deployment plans align with the specific needs of the enterprise.

Jio has deployed a fully automated service management and orchestration function, that enables it to deploy, test and productionize new services using network slicing in a very short time frame.

Network slicing: The go-to-market challenges

One of the primary challenges in bringing slicing-based services to the market is the nascent and rapidly evolving nature of use cases, across both consumer and enterprise domains.

These use cases need to be relevant and impactful for customers, with fast innovation and adaptation necessary to meet the changing demands of the market.

The implementation of slicing solutions necessitates changes in operations support systems (OSS) and business support systems (BSS). These systems need to be agile and flexible to support dynamic slicing. This includes provisioning, monitoring, billing and quality assurance processes that should align with the dynamic nature of slicing services. The ability to efficiently manage and maintain the network slices is crucial for delivering a seamless customer experience. Solving the go-to-market challenges for slicing services requires a keen focus on staying at the forefront of evolving use cases, ensuring device compatibility and adapting OSS/BSS processes to meet the unique demands of this innovative technology. Successfully addressing these challenges is essential for service providers to bring slicing-based services to market effectively and delivering value to customers.

Differentiating offerings with network slicing

Jio’s 5G SA network opens doors to a wide range of new business opportunities, from immediate offerings like gaming and 360-degree live streaming to future XR experiences. While slicing-based B2C services are still evolving, Jio has launched consumer services like cloud gaming, esports and live streaming that will benefit from slicing. With JioGamesCloud and JioGamesESports, Jio aims to expand its foothold in the growing cloud gaming and esports markets. These services can offer engaging and competitive gaming experiences by leveraging the high speeds and low latency of 5G SA.

In the mid term, Jio is looking to expand its service offerings based on XR. One example is the launch of the JioDive VR headset and JioImmerse content library, enabling access to a wide range of VR applications and experiences. As an example, with this equipment, matches in a major Indian cricket tournament in 2023 could be watched online on a virtual 100-inch screen with a 360-degree view of the stadium. Jio aims to continue to enrich their content portfolio and provide immersive digital experiences, catering to a diverse user base seeking interactive and virtual experiences.

Jio believes that XR applications will start dominating in the gaming, social media, entertainment, retail, education, healthcare and manufacturing sectors in the second half of this decade. Jio will continue to evolve its 5G network capabilities along with the evolution of XR applications.

There are multiple scenarios that Jio is working on with its partners to extend its reach into the B2B space. These include slicing-based services tailored to various industries, such as dedicated slices for enterprise operations, or for specific events or locations. It’s critical to collaboratively define use cases with enterprise partners and ensure both the network and OSS/BSS ecosystem is ready for end-to-end management of multiple slices. Jio has initiated 5G deployments in industries like oil and gas and manufacturing, and is testing solutions in other areas such as: healthcare; public safety and emergency response; secure enterprise applications and services including SD-WAN, supported by SD-WAN, supported by Jio’s FWA portfolio (Airfiber) of 5G SA and Smart UBR; remote operations; digital twins; media broadcasting and more. For B2B2C services, Jio considers the ecosystem to still be evolving, calling for extensive collaboration with relevant partners to evolve and refine propositions and establish robust end-to-end management mechanisms.

Continuing to make the most out of 5G

Building out network coverage is an important first step, but as Jio has demonstrated, committing to consumer satisfaction and offering accessible packages as well as attractive additional services is crucial. Engagement with partners to offer innovative business use cases next will allow for full opportunity to be captured. In the long term, Jio envisions sustainable growth by continuously innovating and staying at the forefront of technological advancements, catering to the ever-evolving digital needs of consumers and enterprises.

Collaboration is vital

Collaboration between service providers, industries and enterprises is vital for co-creating viable network slicing solutions.

Entertainment experiences

Slicing will enable immersive entertainment experiences, for example at home or in venues such as stadiums.

XR to dominate

In the second half of this decade, Jio believes that XR applications will start dominating in sectors such as gaming, social media, entertainment, retail, education, healthcare and manufacturing.

1. CSC, Digital India.

2. Ookla Insights Articles, "India's Remarkable 5G Advancement Elevates it's Global Mobile Ranking" (1 October 2023).

3. RIL Q2 2023–2024, Media and Analyst Call Transcript (27 October 2023).

4. Speedtest awards, India (2023).

5. Ericsson Consumerlab, 5G value: Turning performance into loyalty (October 2023).

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