The announcement by the government last week of the formation of the Bharat 6G Alliance (B6GA), speaks for a national resolve to learn from the 5G experience.
This is to ensure that India has a key role in a critical area — creating the evolving 6G standard, not just adhering to it.
The alliance whose launch was reported by Swarajya, is a collaborative platform consisting of public and private companies, academia, research institutions, and standards development organisations.
The primary objective of B6GA is to understand the business and societal needs of 6G beyond technology requirements, and promote high-impact open research and development initiatives.
B6GA aims to bring together Indian startups, companies, and the manufacturing ecosystem to establish consortia that will drive the design, development and deployment of 6G technologies in India.
And not just for India. The Bharat 6G vision statement suggests a global role and reads: "Design, develop and deploy 6G network technologies that provide ubiquitous, intelligent and secure connectivity for high quality living experience for the world.”
An apex council was constituted recently, to drive the Bharat 6G mission, chaired by the Telecom Minister and it includes the secretaries of the departments Telecom and Space, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), MeitY and Information & Broadcasting, as well as chairpersons or chief executive officers of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), the Telecommunication Standards Development India (TSDSI) and the Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT) and representatives of the telecom industry and startups.
Three telecom and infotech specialists have joined the council on invitation: N G Subramaniam, the COO of TCS, a 40-year veteran of the company as well as two India-born globally recognised technology leaders:
- Vinod Dham, widely known as the “Father of the Pentium”, for his leadership role in the development of the microprocessor in the early 1980s, while at Intel. Today he is a prominent Silicon Valley venture capitalist and entrepreneur.
- Arogyaswami Paulraj, Professor Emeritus in Electrical Engineering at Stanford University, in the US, who is the inventor of and holds multiple patents in MIMO — Multiple In Multiple Out. This is a technology breakthrough that enables improved wireless performance and is today to be found in all new mobile phones and wireless systems.
Strength Lies In 'Owning' The Key Patents
In a privileged communication to this correspondent, Professor Paulraj writes: “India has done well in starting early, to shape a national 6G technology strategy.”
He suggests an important role for India:
"One of the key indicators of technology contributions is ownership of Standard-Essential Patents (SEPs) recognised by the 3GPP standards body.”
SEP is a patent that claims an invention that must be used to comply with a technical standard.
In the creation of 5G cellular standards, Paulraj points out, there were some 4,800 core SEP families:
“SEPs are developed and owned exclusively by wireless product companies because various factors heavily favour their dominance in the SEP process. The top 5G SEP holders are Huawei, Samsung, LG, Qualcomm, Nokia, and Ericsson."
“And the HQ countries where SEPs originated are Mainland China (dominant), followed by South Korea, the US, Japan, Finland, and Sweden.”
“Till recently, India did not have a wireless tech industry and therefore did not participate in the 5G SEPs.”
But things are changing in India, says Paulraj: “With the advent of Tatas taking a leading role in developing 4G infra technology for BSNL, India finally has the platform to join the 6G SEP race”, adding “IP development and patent portfolio advancement are very expensive, and India needs to find ways to help its fledgling wireless industry take on this challenge.”
The underlying message is stark: You cannot be a tech leader in 6G unless you are a contributor to and ‘owner’ of the underlying standards.
If India is to compete with the well-funded global tech companies in influencing standards, the government must find the resources to support academia and startups who have the tech savvy but may lack the funds.
A Start Was Made With 5G
A small start was made by Indian agencies in helping create standards that were meaningful to the country’s special challenges in rolling out 5G.
In June 2022, the global electrical standards body, IEEE approved a new standard — IEEE P1930 — led by a research group at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, the first ever IEEE standard coming out of Indian efforts.
The standard was: "Recommended Practice for SDN based Middleware for Control & Management of Wireless Networks". It proposed a Software Defined Radio (SDN) or a software rather than a costlier hardware solution to unify multiple wireless access technologies like 4G, 5G and WiFi. (Swarajya report).
Another under-progress IEEE standard, P2061 to which the same IIT Bombay working group led by Pranav Jha is contributing, pertains to ‘frugal networks’ for creating affordable rural broadband networks.
As India gets started on the Bharat 6G mission, one will hopefully see dozens of such India-based groups helping define the contours of the next big leap in mobile phone technology.
In his remarks at the formation of the Bharat 6G Alliance, Telecom Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said India had so far acquired some 200 patents in 6G and had set a target of contributing to 10 per cent of all intellectual property (IP) in 6G by 2030.
Let the IP race begin!
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