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Telecom Sector To Stabilise In 4 To 6 Months: Manoj Sinha
Having initiated a host of reforms in telecom sector, Manoj Sinha, in an exclusive conversation with BW Businessworld’s Suman K Jha, says that the sector will stabilize in the next 4-6 months
Photo Credit : Ritesh Sharma
Union Minister of State for Communications (Independent Charge) Manoj Sinha has grand plans for the telecom sector. Having initiated a host of reforms in the sector,Sinha, in an exclusive conversation with BW Businessworld’s Suman K Jha, says that the sector will stabilize in the next 4-6 months.
Why do you think the telecom sector is in distress?
This condition often comes up whenever a new entrant comes in. Back in 2003 as well, there was a disruption on the entry of a new player, but the market stabilized within a year. It is true that for the last few quarters, there has been a revenue loss. The government has constituted an inter-ministerial group (IMG). The group will figure out ways to resolve the issues. The telecom sector will be back on track.
Will there be government intervention in this?
There is an objective behind forming the IMG and we are paying heed to all the issues that the group has raised, especially on the issue of viability and re-payment capacity.
After the entry of Reliance Jio, others are bleeding. Are you saying that the government will resolve the issue through a holistic approach?
We don’t talk about any individual player; we look at the telecom sector as a whole. Prior to our government, this sector used to be in headlines for all the wrong reasons. We have been able to remove the trust deficit in this sector. The fundamental decisions like trading, sharing, harmonization of spectrum, etc taken by the government have benefitted the sector.
We also allowed the sharing of active infrastructure; we permitted the sharing of towers. With our new rules, setting up towers has become easy. So, all these efforts by us have instilled confidence among the sector and among the investors –both Indian and foreign. So, our plans have given positive outcomes. Regarding this challenge, we are figuring out as to what role the government can play.
You have been meeting the leading industry players. What is the feedback you are getting?
I have personally met them and we understand their concerns and the IMG has been formed based on this. The basic two issues are telecom and power. IMG group has done a deep study in this and will give a report based on this. The Telecom Commission will decide based on the same report.
What are the main findings of the IMG study?
Once the report comes out, you will know.
By when can we expect the report?
It’s almost ready. It can come out any day.
How much time do you think will it take for the sector to stabilize?
I believe the sector will stabilize within four to six months.
Today, we are talking about 100 smart cities and Internet of Things (IoT) is fundamental to it. The IoT is all about Digital India, connectivity, the telecom sector. Do you think we have expanded to a satisfactory level?
On infrastructure, we have seen tremendous progress since the Prime Minister launched ‘Digital India’. To fulfill the dream of ‘Digital India’, under Bharat Net, we will provide 100 mbps broadband speed in 2.5 lakh gram panchayats.
In the first phase, we had to avail this facility to one lakh gram panchayats and it has been over two months since we laid optic fibre in one lakh, and over 30,000 gram panchayats are availing the facility of 100 mbps Internet speed. Within 40 to 45 days, this figure will cross 70,000. I am hopeful that by November, one lakh gram panchayats will have this facility.
We will complete the second phase, in which we have to take this facility to the rest 1.5 lakh villages, by 19th March. The cabinet has also approved this plan of over Rs 18,000 crore. In the upcoming meeting of the Telecom Commission, we will move forward with the work and tender procedure for this.
We will ensure that the second phase will remain free of the hassles which we saw during the first phase. The plan will be carried in a time-bound manner and through this, we will be able to provide this broadband facility to around 65 to 70 crore rural population. This will end the digital divide.
We are also coming up with the new telecom policy. The consultation process is already on. This policy will be a forward looking one as it will incorporate 5G, IoT, and artificial intelligence. We are also involving the experts of this area in the consultations. TRAI is also helping us out in this. So, I am hopeful that India will be able to match steps with the world after this policy comes in. The policy will also focus on ‘Internet for all’ and we are working in this direction as well. This will surely benefit in the development of smart cities. Our organization C-Dot is also working for the development of the smart cities.
By when will you be announcing it?
I hope a forward looking telecom policy will come out by February end or by the first week of March next year.
And the consumer will be at the centre of the policy?
It will have the Internet for all, latest technology, and it will abolish digital divide in the centre.
Today, we are witnessing a 4G revolution but are we ready for 5G?
I can say that lot of work has progressed a lot on 5G but 5G hasn’t been rolled out. We will be on time with the world in this regard.
Telecom players are offering free voice, charging instead for the data. Do you think it is a financially viable model?
There is one player which is doing so. The market is switching from voice to data and the data consumption of the country has multiplied six folds in the past one year. We have surpassed America and China in data consumption. We will take care of the big market in our policy and we will ensure that the success story of the sector continues.
Do you think the postal department is relevant in today’s times when we are looking forward to abolishing digital divide and Internet for all?
The role of the postal department has evolved with time and technology. The department has come into e-commerce. We have started Passport Service Centres (PSCs) at 57 places. As our Prime Minister has set the target that no citizen should go beyond 50 kilometres to get passports. To fulfill this vision, the foreign ministry and postal department will collaborate to establish 350 PSCs across the country. We are also coming up with post payment bank and we will open up 650 branches of this bank which will be connected with 1.55 lakh rural post offices. So, be it financial inclusion, direct benefit transfer, or money orders, everything that a bank does, we will be able to take that to the door of every villager. These post offices won’t provide loans like banks.
Through Rural ICT (RICT), RICT, we have given core banking solution (CBS) to rural post offices. The rural staff will have CBS enabled device and mobile app so that he can leverage the technology for the benefit of the village. So, we have revamped the post offices according to time.
What’s your vision for the telecom sector?
We are focusing on two major aspects. First is that, we have to take mobile connectivity or tele-density, which is currently over 93 per cent, to 100 per cent by 2020. Second is to remove the divide between urban and rural India. Every citizen must get the facility of Internet connectivity.
Do you think private operators can play a big role in fulfilling Prime Minister’s dream of Digital India?
Yes. The Government and the private sector can collectively make this dream come true. This can bring a revolutionary change and the Prime Minister has brought in the ‘Digital India’ movement at the right time. I will narrate two incidents in this regard. First being 8 November 2016, which I think is a historical date of this country, the day when demonetization came in. Many people had reservations, but apart from some difficulties, I believe it was done successfully. The second being the tax reforms in the form of Goods and Services Tax (GST) which made our nation a single market. People around the world had concerns whether India will be able to roll this out effectively, but again we rolled out GST successfully. So, this is the impact of Digital India that these instances couldn’t impact the economic condition or the common man of the country negatively.
When you came to power, call drop was a big issue. You and TRAI both have said that there are continuous efforts to address the issue. Has this issue been sorted out completely?
When we came to power, call drop was an issue. It can only be rectified by regular monitoring and I am complacent that within one year we have installed more than 3.67 lakh Base Transceiver Stations (BTS) BTS in the country. It consists primarily of 4G but has 2G and 3G as well.
To tell you the accurate figure, we have installed 10,006 2G BTS, 69,101 3G BTS and 3,15,584 4G BTS. This has reduced call drop and we have also established a system for feedback called IVRS and released a toll free number 1955 to rectify this. All this have made things better. You will be surprised to know that we have called approximately 67 lakh people from the IVRS toll free number and around 9.18 lakh subscribers have participated in this.
This helps the department to acknowledge the places which suffer problems frequently and we analyse this and inform telecom service providers who rectify the situation. TRAI is also taking this very seriously. Till now two per cent call drop was allowed and an average was taken in the whole service area, due to this it was difficult to track areas with frequent call drop issues.
Our new norms will fix this situation and I will thank telecom service providers for installing BTS in such large numbers.
There were some concerns regarding EMF radiations which impact human health badly. Thus, we initiated awareness programmes across nation at a big level.
On May 2, 2017, we launched a ‘Tarang Sanchar Portal’ and through this portal a person can know the amount of radiation coming out from a particular tower. If anyone wishes to the amount of radiation in one’s house, our officers will do the measurement in the home and give the authenticated certificate after the submission of Rs 4,000 as fees. Our norms regarding radiation are stricter than the international standards but there was a misconception due to which people from resident welfare association had reservations on the setting up of towers near school, colleges and residential places. However, the facilities can’t be good without good infrastructure, so installing BTS is important. We have proposed its installations in government organizations, military areas, etc. This has made installations easy.
In a highly competitive era, what is the role of BSNL and how has it been performing? BSNL has taken many new initiatives as well.
BSNL went into a loss in 2006-07 and this was the time when private players were investing in technology while BSNL was struggling with a financial crisis. After Prime Minister Modi came into power, there has been a shift in the work culture of BSNL and before two years BSNL registered an operating profit of Rs 600 crores. Last year, BSNL pegged an operating profit of Rs. 3880 cr, and I hope this time we will have an operating profit of over 4000 crores. We are investing in technology and network. I will also like to highlight that after the entry of Reliance Jio, only BSNL’s market share has increased, even if marginally. I believe in the coming days BSNL will become even better.
What about the challenges that the MTNL faces?
There are a few challenges with spectrum. There is increased financial burden on MTNL but we are working seriously on how to revive MTNL. We appointed a consultant who has given his report and we will take some decisions in the coming week. MTNL is also installing BTS in Delhi and Mumbai with the capital of 170 crores, so as to provide better facility.
Any plans for auction in the near future?
Last year, there was sufficient spectrum on the table during the auction and there was a sale of 965 MHz spectrum. We will take decision on the right time when industry feels the need of it and the government finds it appropriate.