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Telecom Sector 2018: Ushers In A New Era Of Digitisation And Economic Growth

With technology innovations, new revenue streams and adequate investments, centred on the telecom sector, India is all set to touch new heights of economic growth and prosperity

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The Indian telecom subscribers breathed a sigh of relief when the Supreme Court of India passed a judgement that it was not mandatory for Indian citizens to provide their Aadhaar details, while applying for new mobile connections. Operators were also instructed not to give away new SIM or mobile connections on the basis of Aadhaar e-KYC authentication process. Following the landmark verdict, the telecom industry once again sprung into action and is now working closely with the Government to develop an alternative OTP based digital authentication process, which is as robust and fool-proof as Aadhaar. Such paperless processes are absolutely hassle-free!

This verdict was one of the many landmark events in the telecom sector in 2018. It has been a crucial year for the sector, given the number of progressive and reformist undertakings by the industry and the Government. While there is a long list of such undertakings, some of the key highlights are the rollout of NDCP 2018, ground being laid for 5G and other emerging technologies, Aadhaar based KYC verdict, EMF testing fee for sites being reduced, consolidations and exits in the sector, and digitalisation of numerous crucial services.    

The industrial and governmental endeavours to connect a country of billions have increased over the last decade. Maximum effort has been put in towards building formidable infrastructure in order to offer seamless connectivity and digital services to all. To give a better perspective of things, this robust and world class infrastructure came at a cost of a whopping INR 10.4 lakh crores and with the commercial rollout of 5G in the offing, more such investments are in the pipeline. Treading on these lines of thought, India has more than 5 lakh mobile towers with over 20 lakh BTSs. Another noteworthy initiative is the Government’s pioneering BharatNet program, through which 1.22 lakh Gram Panchayats were connected through high speed OFC network by December ’18. The idea is to take this number to 2.5 lakh, by March 2019.

With such big ticket investments and constantly increasing demand for better connectivity, the Indian telecom sector is touted to be one of the fastest growing sectors globally. Even though the growth in voice services seemed to have slowed down, data consumption on mobile devices grew by leaps and bounds. Regardless of a low 40% internet penetration, India, today, has the world’s second largest internet user base and consumes more data than any other country in the world. The low internet penetration presents an opportunity for growth: for every 10% increase in Internet penetration, the GDP of a developing country like India rises by more than 1%.

The digital revolution in India is likely to undergo a paradigm shift, considering the intensive proliferation of mobile and internet services. With digital becoming the nucleus of everything including people, places and things, the trend is bound to grow and evolve with times, disrupting the sector like never before. The internet is undoubtedly a high-yielding global system, with tremendous potential to catapult the country into an era of intense transformation. Telecom and internet is the very backbone of Government’s digital vision, which aims to provide inclusive and all-encompassing socio-economic benefits to everyone. 

The telecom sector regularly sees constant reformative policies, technological advancements and ambitious Government programs such as Digital India, Smart City and the like. Therefore, it might be difficult to sum it all up here; however, in an effort to underline some significant milestones of the telecom sector in the year 2018, the Right of Way policy deserves a special mention. Making sure of efficient connectivity and optimal distribution of digital services in several regions in the country, the Right of Way policy has been crucial to the sector. With an eye on this space, the industry is realising how RoW’s efficient implementation is playing a decisive role in keeping pace with the demands of this complex and dynamic ecosystem. Many Indian states are coming forward to adopt the Right of Way Rule 2016, with eleven states already having adopted it. 

Likewise, another noteworthy, development observed in the telecom sector was the implementation of the National Digital Communications Policy (NDCP 2018). The anticipated investment of USD 100 Billion is aimed at making access to communication services easy and affordable, apart from breathing in a new lease of life into the already debt ridden and distressed telecom sector. For long-term sustainability and to prepare the sector for widespread adaptations needed for welcoming futuristic technologies, proper execution of the policy is of utmost importance. NDCP 2018 has taken into account several long standing concerns the sector was facing and attempts to address each of those concerns with utmost diligence. Rationalisation of multiple taxes and levies and treatment of spectrum as a natural resource are some of the many recommendations which truly deserve to be highlighted. The NDCP also targets to create 40 lakh new jobs in the near future. 

Furthermore, ushering in a new era of 5G, the year 2018 saw several initiatives being undertaken in a bid to prepare the country for the roll out for the new generation of mobile networks. As a part of these undertakings, South Asia’s biggest and grandest internet and technology event, India Mobile Congress 2018, witnessed major discussions and deliberations around 5G and the opportunities that 5G will bring with it; live demonstrations; unique, India-specific use cases and much more. The adaptation of technologies, which were thus far unthinkable in the Indian context, such as driverless autonomous cars, drone patrolling for road safety, and robotic healthcare diagnostics, seemed probable. Everyone in the ICT industry is extensively collaborating with each other and with the Government to create a solid platform for 5G and other emerging technologies such as IoT, M2M, AI, and AR, etc. A high-level forum for 5G, comprising secretaries from the Ministries of Communications, Electronics and Information Technology, and Science & Technology, along with representatives from the industry and academia was also constituted this year. 

On a concluding note, the telecom sector is helping the Government in realizing its digital dreams for the country, riding on the various progressive programs and the industry’s commitment, marking the year 2018 as a ‘Year of Digital’. Making an allowance for such progressions, it wouldn’t be wrong to conclude that 2019 will see numerous positive disruptions. With technology innovations, new revenue streams and adequate investments, centred on the telecom sector, India is all set to touch new heights of economic growth and prosperity.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Rajan S Mathews

The author is Director-General, Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI)

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