Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday launched the 5G telephony services that promise to provide ultra high-speed internet on mobile phones, saying it marks the beginning of a new era and presents an infinite sky of opportunities.
The fifth generation or 5G services started with India's No.2 operator Bharti Airtel rolling out out services in eight cities, including Delhi, Mumbai, Varanasi and Bengaluru.
Reliance Jio, the country's top operator with most subscribers, is to launch its services in four metros sometime this month, while Vodafone Idea Ltd, the third operator, has so far not indicated any fixed timeline for its 5G rollout.
Launching the services at the India Mobile Congress (IMC) 2022, Modi said today is a special day for the world's fifth largest economy.
"Today, 130 crore Indians are getting a wonderful gift in the form of 5G from the country and from the telecom industry of the country," he said, adding 5G is the dawn of a new era.
"5G is the beginning of an infinite sky of opportunities."
With speeds multiple times faster than 4G and lag-free connectivity, 5G can enable billions of connected devices to share data in real time.
It holds the promise of revolutionising sectors from healthcare and education to agriculture and disaster monitoring.
The 5G services will progressively cover the entire country over the next couple of years -- Jio promises to do that by December 2023 and Bharti Airtel by March 2024.
Modi said while the nation was dependent on foreign countries for technology for 2G, 3G and 4G telecom services, India has created history with indigenous technology playing a major role in 5G.
"With 5G, India is setting a global standard in telecom technology for the first time," he said.
The prime minister said his government's vision for 'Digital India' was founded on four pillars -- the cost of devices, digital connectivity, data cost and the digital-first approach.
This approach has led to mobile manufacturing units in India increased from just two in 2014 to over 200 now, bringing down the cost of handsets.
Also, India now has the world's lowest data charges, as tariffs fell from a high of Rs 300 per 1 GB of data in 2014 to just Rs 10 per GB.
Going by the average consumption of 14 GB of data per month, the data cost has come down from Rs 4,200 to Rs 125-150, he said.
While internet users have grown to 80 crore from just 6 crore in 2014, optical fiber now connects 1.7 lakh village panchayats as opposed to under 100 panchayats eight years back.
The country, he said, is shipping phones overseas worth crores of rupees as against zero exports a few years back.
Also, digital payments have increased, he pointed out.
Technology has truly now become democratised, Modi said.
Taking a dig at the previous Congress-led UPA government, he said this was possible because of the right intentions of his government.
"2G ki niyat and 5G ki niyat mein yehi farak hai (this is the difference between the intentions during 2G era and 5G era now)," he said in reference to the alleged 2G spectrum allocation scam.
Talking about Digital India, the prime minister said some people think that this is just a government scheme.
"But Digital India is not just a name, it is a big vision for the development of the country.
“The goal of this vision is to bring that technology to the common people, which works for the people, works by connecting with the people."
Just as the government started a door-to-door campaign to provide electricity, worked on the mission of providing clean water to everyone through the Har Ghar Jal Abhiyan, and delivered gas cylinders to the poorest of the poor through the Ujjwala scheme, it is now working in a similar manner on the goal of internet for all, he said.
Highlighting the efforts in the field of digital payments, Modi said it was the government that went ahead and made the way for digital payments easier.
"The government itself promoted citizen-centric delivery service through apps.
“Whether it is farmers or small shopkeepers, we have given them a way to meet their daily needs through apps," he said as he recounted the seamless continuation of direct benefit transfer, education, vaccination and health services, and work-from-home during the pandemic when many countries were finding it difficult to keep these services going.
The prime minister stated that the use of 5G technology will not be limited to speedy internet access, but it has the capability to change lives.
After the launch, all three major telecom operators demonstrated one use case to show the potential of 5G technology in India.
Billionaire Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Jio connected a teacher from a school in Mumbai with students in three different locations in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Odisha.
This demonstrated how 5G can facilitate education by bringing teachers closer to students, obliviating the physical distance between them.
It also demonstrated the power of Augmented Reality (AR) on screen and how that is being used to teach children across the country, remotely, without the need of an AR device.
Modi interacted with children from the three schools in the demo case, asking them about their favourite subject and how the use of technology has helped in learning.
The Vodafone Idea test case demonstrated the safety of workers in an under-construction tunnel of Delhi Metro through the creation of a 'digital twin' of the tunnel on the dais.
The digital twin will help give safety alerts to workers in real-time from a remote location.
PM took a live demo from the dais to monitor the work in real-time through utilising VR and artificial intelligence and interacted with a worker at the tunnel in presence of Delhi Lieutenant Governor V K Saxena.
In the Airtel demo, students from Dankaur, Uttar Pradesh witnessed a lively and immersive education experience to learn about the solar system with the help of virtual reality and augmented reality.
A student, Khushi, shared her experience of learning with the prime minister by appearing on the dais through a hologram.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adiyanath connected from Rudraksh Convention Centre, Varanasi.