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BW Businessworld

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.

Edited excerpts:

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.

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