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25 years of Mobility

As the Indian telecom sector traverses its journey from mobility only for the elite to for each and every Indian citizen, from `24 per minute to free calls, from a long waiting period to a phone-on-demand, one company that continues to be in the race right from day one is Airtel. And one company that plodded its counterparts to make this possible is Jio. And one manufacturer that linked its fate to this sector, graduating from optical fiber cable to building digital networks globally is Sterlite Technologies, better known as STL. If this is not self-reliance, aliás Atmanirbhar, then what is?

The DoT, in association with COAI and IMC Studio, commemorated the telecom industry’s silver jubilee themed, “25 years of Mobility– ”, on the completion of 25 years of mobility in India. The event was sponsored by Nokia, STL, Ciena, and MediaTek, and its media partners were The Hindustan Times, Communications Today, and TechArc. The session was moderated by Lt Gen Dr SP Kochhar, DG, COAI.

Intersting Excerts From Stalwart’s Presentions

“From voice calls to webinars, from 2G to 5G, from digital elitism to digital democracy, the journey of digital connectivity has covered an astonishing distance. Then connectivity was a privilege. Now it is a tool of empowerment. Digital connectivity is literally an enabler of multiple kinds of mobility including social, economic, and transformational. The companies active in the ecosystem of digital connectivity have done yeoman service to the poor and underprivileged by ensuring that connectivity reaches them.
Now that digital connectivity has scaled many peaks, it is time to focus on self-reliance and security. It would be great if the webinar can brainstorm a roadmap to achieve end-to-end self-reliance in connectivity infrastructure as well as ensuring greater security at all levels against threats.”
Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India

Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister for Communications, Electronics & IT, Government of India
“In the last 25 years, the telecom sector has witnessed tremendous transformation in connecting a billion citizens by 2G, 3G, 4G, and fiber, ushering in several disruptive technological developments, such as innovative mobile apps, mobile payments, connected devices and wearables, IoT, and m-Governance.
Today India is the second largest telecom market in the world, and it has surpassed USA and China to become the largest data-consuming economy, and that too at the lowest tariffs. This transformation is moving India toward becoming a knowledge society riding on the digital communications in true sense. The clarion call for Atmanirbhar Bharat does not mean India in isolation, but India as a robust contributor in the global supply chains. Hon’ble Prime Minister has also set a goal of making India a USD 5-trillion economy. Telecom sector has to play a major role in achieving that goal. Government and the industry need to work together to achieve these goals.”

Dr RS Sharma, Chairman, TRAI
“The National Telecom Policy announced by the government in 1994 opened up the telecom sector. The move led to the opening of basic telecom services in addition to value-added services, such as cellular services and radio paging through private participation. From 8 million telephone lines, a waiting list of 2.5 million, and 40000 villages covered by telephony, the industry efforts led to take India’s teledensity in 2020 to 86.66 percent, subscriber base to 1196 million, and more than 550,000 villages connected digitally. We have certainly come a long way.”

Anshu Prakash, Secretary-Telecom & Chairman DCC, DoT
“In the COVID pandemic, I congratulate the healthcare workers, doctors, law enforcement agencies, essential services, and government authorities that were able to deliver effectively due to the voice, data, and video connectivity, enabled by telecommunication networks. Despite the surge in data consumption, the Indian telecom networks did not fail us, even once, during this period.

While we have every reason to be proud of our success, the road ahead for the capital-intensive telecom sector is full of challenges. It requires continual investment in maintenance and renewal of networks, as also for adoption of new technologies. This in turn entails capital infusion.

India also requires larger network of wireline communication and wireline broadband. The tower density has to be majorly enhanced. Fiber use per capita must increase, towers need to be fiberized, FTTH connections and internet leased-line communication should proliferate, the right of way issues require resolution. The rural areas which have shown huge appetite for data consumption require better telecom connectivity. There should not be and cannot be a digital divide between regions, between urban and rural areas, and between haves and have-nots.
While the telecom policy has evolved from 1994, 1999, 2012, and in 2018, we now have a very futuristic National Digital Communications Policy. Concerted efforts are a must to achieve the goals and objectives of this policy, provision of broadband for all, enhancing contribution of digital communications in GDP and employment, increasing our ranking in the global ICT Development Index, which are some of the challenges that we need to address.

We also need to prepare, invest, and be ready for reaping the benefits of 5G technology opportunities and applications across all sectors including health, education, agriculture, disaster management, industry, commerce, etc. Enhancement of our capabilities and capacities in the core ICT sector must be a focus area. It is our belief that with active efforts of all stakeholders, the telecom sector in India will emerge stronger, and meet the expectations and aspirations of propelling India to a higher trajectory of growth with major enhancement in the quality of life of all citizens.”

Mukesh Ambani, Chairman & MD,Reliance Industries Ltd.
“There are rare moments in history when fiction becomes fact, constraint makes way for freedom, and necessity becomes the proverbial mother of invention. The birth of fixed-line telephony was one of them. However, it provided only partial freedom of communication. It did not completely remove the constraint of distance, people needed to communicate from anywhere to anywhere, 24×7. It was both their need, and their dream. Technology answered their dream, and entrepreneurship satisfied this need.

The transition from landline to mobile was undoubtedly a revolutionary disruption. However, in the past 25 years, mobile telephony itself has undergone many disruptive and transformational changes. I can count four fundamental ways in which mobile telephony has changed, and has in turn changed India.

First, mobility has become affordable beyond all expectations. In 1995, the cost of a per-minute call from one cell phone was 24 rupees, 16 rupees for the caller and 8 rupees for the called. Now, voice calls are free, without any time limit. Second, because mobility became affordable, it also became democratic. It ceased to be a rich man’s monopoly, long ago. Indeed, no other technological tool in human history has erased the rich-poor divide the way mobile telephony has. Third, from uni-functional, cell phones have become multi-functional because of the mobile internet. The combination of the connectivity revolution and the computation revolution has opened the floodgates of human creativity. Fourth, and most important, with data becoming both abundant and affordable, mobile telephony has become a catalyst for enrichment, and empowerment of common Indians, in ways that was unthinkable 25 years ago.

People are now, accessing and exchanging knowledge on their phones. They are receiving news on their phones. They are watching and making videos on their phones. They are buying and selling goods and services on their phones. They are making payments on their phones. They are working from home and studying from home on their phones. They are participating in virtual meetings, like the one we are having now. The ongoing COVID lockdown has provided the best examples of how mobile phones are empowering people. They have kept the nation connected, and they have kept the wheels of the economy running. What all this goes to show is how digital mobility is realizing Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi’s vision of improving the ease of living for common Indians.

As we celebrate the silver jubilee of mobility in our country, I am both humbled and happy to mention the significant contribution that Jio has made, and is continuing to make in India’s Digital Udaan. In less than four years since its inception, Jio has brought the fruits of digital revolution to the largest number of mobile users in India. Jio has become the trailblazer in affordability, quality, and functional versatility.

We are now rolling out our vision of digital platforms and partnerships. This will provide the most advanced technological tools of empowerment to millions of our farmers, small merchants, consumers, small and medium enterprises, students, teachers, healthcare workers, and innovators. This will also create new and attractive employment and livelihood opportunities for our talented youth.

Today, I reiterate Jio’s commitment to make our fullest contribution to the advancement of our Prime Minister’s Digital India mission. As we take legitimate pride in the achievements of mobility in the last 25 years, this is also an occasion for us to look at the obstacles that have prevented Indian consumers and Indian society from fully benefiting from the digital revolution. India still has 300 million mobile subscribers trapped in the 2G era. Their feature phones keep them excluded even from the basic uses of internet at a time when both India and the rest of the world are standing at the doorsteps of 5G telephony. Necessary policy steps should be taken with utmost urgency to make 2G a part of history.

It is obvious that the next 25 years will bring even more breath-taking changes in mobility. 25 years ago, India was behind the developed world in mobility. Now the time has come for India to be ahead of the rest of the world in key areas of technology. Let’s all work together to realize this vision and mission.”

Sanjay Malik, Senior VP & Head India Market, Nokia
“The telecom industry in India has touched the lives and livelihood along the strata of low-income and high-income groups, be they kirana shops or large offices.

From quite a few perspectives, as an industry, we have come a long way. At the time the first GSM call was made, incidentally from a Nokia instrument-the 2110 model, on Nokia equipment and Nokia base stations, from a technology perspective, we were about 5–7 years behind the developed countries. And today, 5 years later, we are shoulder-to-shoulder with them. That is a big leap. In terms of employment, we were 1000 people at that time and today we are an industry of 4 million people.

If the last 25 years, in India were about getting one billion people connected, the next 25 years would be getting one trillion devices connected, getting the networks to evolve at a much higher bandwidth and much lower latency. The digital transformation in India started with 4G. The next leap will be an ecosystem upgrade from 4G to 5G.

Globally, Nokia has 83 contracts for rolling out 5G, and many of them are already live. India too will be no different. As when we were deploying 4G, once bandwidth was made available, it got consumed and today we are the highest data consumption country in the world. That is exactly what is going to happen, once we move from 4G to 5G.

The entire ecosystem will work together and new use cases will come up. In any case, we have already adopted 5G manufacturing here, and are exporting and deploying 5G networks in other countries. Competency already exists in India. We are starting early to get the ecosystem ready for the next 25 years.

We need to have an end-to-end security ecosystem for the operators, application providers, and connectivity providers. As of now, we are looking at it, element by element, which is fragmented.”

Sunil Bharti Mittal, Chairman, Bharti Enterprises
“25 years back, India started this journey on the mobile wagon. Airtel and a few others started offering services to the rich and elite, in the metro cities, and COAI was founded at that time. As founder and chairman of COAI, along with other entrepreneurs, I too started to dream about India having mobile phones in every nook and corner. 25 years have been glorious in every respect. Today, over a billion people are connected in India and not just in cities and small towns but deep in villages and rural areas. The Indian story of a billion connected people, of which nearly 600 million are on broadband internet, is a story unparalleled anywhere in the world. COAI played a very important role in shaping this industry and ensured that the competitive environment, government regulations and policies were well-crafted toward the growth of India’s digital dream. However, we have seen the operators move from two to twelve over this period of time. And today, we are back to three-plus-one operators, serving the vast land of India.

Given the digital dream that our prime minister has, telecom indeed is playing a very vital role in ensuring that the societies are connected and telecom works as the digital spine. We believe that the tariffs that we now apply in India are perhaps the most affordable, anywhere in the world. Customers enjoy over 15 GB of data usage per month, at the most affordable rates, anywhere on the globe.

Telecommunication has also emerged as the frontline corona warrior. In this difficult time of pandemic, telecom has played one of the key frontal roles in our society, in keeping everybody connected, in keeping peace and calm, and more importantly ensuring that the economic engine continues to move forward. I cannot imagine how any nation would have survived this pandemic without a robust telecom network, and I compliment all the telecom players and their respective teams who have led this and ensured that India remained connected, with high quality broadband services.

Digital India is a vision that the country holds very dearly. Telecommunication will play a very vital role in ensuring that the digital dream of our prime minister is met, and met with a first-rate telecom network, which is the leading edge of technology, and will ensure that when 5G comes to India, the telecom operators will take a front-end role in connecting all that is required to be connected in the country.

What we are looking forward to, in the next 25 years, is IoT connectivity, low-latency connectivity, a full 5G-enabled network across the country, ensuring that digital payments, online activities, e-commerce, health services, agricultural services, government subsidies going into mobile accounts, are all effectively done through a robust mobile network. It is also time for the government to now ensure that this industry, which has had its ups and downs, is given due attention in the area of levies and taxes.

Taxes have generally been very high on this industry. It is important that this is reviewed thoroughly and telecommunication resources like spectrum and levies do not become a source for the exchequer, but become a force multiplier in ensuring that the economic momentum becomes faster and gets accelerated, so the government earns its dues from other industries, who are riding on the back of this wonderful industry. I also feel the time has come for India to take a lead in the area of local manufacturing. Prime Minister’s vision of Atmanirbhar is giving us all a clarion call to ensure that more and more value addition is done in mobile devices and accelerated software abilities. In closing, let me say that the mobile industry has played a very vital role. I am delighted and glad that Airtel, since 25 years is still holding strong and will continue to serve the needs of the Indian mobile industry.”

Anku Jain, Managing Director, MediaTek India
“The story of connectivity starts and stops with the chipsets. As you are aware, MediaTek is a global fabless semiconductor company and powers devices like smartphones. We are the chip designers, the brain of all these devices. We have been a part of the Indian telecom journey for the last 16 years. We have three R&D centers in India, and are focusing on 5G and AI for our product line-ups. Over the next 25 years, 5G would be a great enabler for low latency, high bandwidth, and multiple devices being connected, and we are very excited to be a part of this interesting, high-tech journey.

The Jan Yojana program is mostly about the Aadhar card and the mobile. MediaTek has participated in the mobile part to a large extent. We have democratized computing, and the mobile ecosystem is today accessible to the entire gamut of the Indian population. It has been a great journey from feature phones to smartphones and from 2G, 3G, 4G to now 5G. Our vision is to make connectivity an equal opportunity, including the middle-class user and the one at the bottom of the pyramid. MediaTek’s vision is democratizing it more and more.

MediaTek has been at the forefront of technology for 5G on the handset side. Last year, we unleashed Dimensity, a series of chips which included flagship products for the very high-end 5G-enabled smartphones. This year, we have announced variants of the chip, the Dimensity 720, 800, and 820 series for more accessible mid-tier devices. Our objective is to make this technology available, not only for the high-end segment, but democratizing access to telephony and enabling the end-user have power in his hand, and use technologies like AI and IoT.

Online access itself is a big enabler. For instance, an affordable smartphone gives access to online education and telemedicine, to one and all. And this is where the real change will come.”

Rajesh Nambiar, Chairman, Ciena India
“We at Ciena have been a part of this journey for the last 15 years with local presence, and earlier from our offices overseas. We are looking at investing heavily in our R&D centers and our labs in India. Our second largest lab worldwide, with 2000 people is located in Gurgaon. Our R&D center here has really helped our Indian customers simulate and solve India-specific issues. It has given us a lot of credibility and growth as well.

In the 1998 to 2008 timeframe, for around 10 years, when the operators were looking for solutions, especially with the multiple simultaneous fiber cuts in the backbone network or on control panels with auto routing diversity, we were able to partner with them and beat their resilience.

Over the next 25 years, I believe an adaptive, automation-guided network will be required, so that it may rapidly scale, self-configure, and self-optimize by constantly accessing the network module. And programmable connectivity is what is actually going to make the biggest difference.

The foundation of this adaptive network will be based on three basics–connect, sense, and act. Connect to ensure that the programmable infrastructure, a packet or optical infrastructure is one that can be accessed and configured via an open interface and is very highly instrumented. On the Sense side, on the analytics and intelligence front, collecting network performance data, analyzing it, using AI or providing the ability to more accurately predict the potential of network problems and anticipating by turning mountains of data into actionable insight is another huge part of that. And the third, Act is how to do software control and automation. Like whether it’s a multi-domain service orchestration, federated inventory, or truly centralized. These individual domains are critical to ensure that adaptive networking is possible.

We will also need to focus on self-reliance, end-to-end security with a lot deeper encryption, even at the optical level. At the end of the day, this is what is going to drive the amalgamation, referred to earlier. Bringing all these technologies together and truly making a business case to grow these technologies will be key.”

Dr Anand Agarwal, Group CEO, STL
“I would like to congratulate the industry and COAI for delivering 25 years of mobility in India and coincidentally, we at STL are also celebrating 25 years of developing and delivering optical fiber.

The next 25 years will be all about digital; it will be about transforming India. Digital is a completely new paradigm–it’s just not an extension of telecom, but a completely different orbit. With digital, we have multitude of applications and of services, from education to banking to e-commerce to e-governance, all driving on the digital highway.

There is a clear separation in digital between the infrastructure, where we have the converged network, and the connectivity compute ecosystem. There is the content-end, applications, devices, and sensors and then there are users that go beyond individuals, and include AI and machines. It’s going to be a multitude of unleashing multiple industries, from one end of the infrastructure, application, and content monetization for both human and non-human users.

We see the network moving to becoming more software-based for application, content, and cloud infra. We see more disaggregation, a multiplicity of providers from application to virtualizing network functions, and huge democratization due to the significantly low cost of delivery.

We have transformed STL with our legacy, the optical fiber, and now cater to 12 percent of global demand. And we are starting early to get the ecosystem ready for the next 25 years. We believe the networks of tomorrow will be a combination of wired and wireless–wireless in all forms, such as 5G or Wi-Fi 6 or any new variant. It could be both disaggregated hardware as well as open software, and a combination of connectivity and compute, built at the edge.

We at STL have structured ourselves, over the years, and built capabilities with ecosystem partners to deliver converged digital infrastructure to our customers.
We have created stack, a combination of wired and wireless, based on disaggregated open source hardware and software as well as created a competency, which is both on connectivity as well as compute at the points of presence, to deliver end-to-end converged network at the access.”

Future of Mobility

In the second episode of the webinar series, Desh Ki Digital Udaan, a panel of industry experts discussed the future of mobility in India and the new technologies to look out for. The webinar was organised by COAI in association with DoT. The participants were Akhil Gupta, Nitin Bansal, Badri Gomatam, Randeep Raina, Digvijay Sharma, and Jonathan Homa with KG Purushothaman, Partner, Telecom Sector Leader, KPMG India as the moderator. Lt. Gen. Dr. SP Kocher DG, COAI delivered the welcome address. Communications Today was one of the media partners.

SP Kochhar, DG, COAI
“I am so glad that the prime minister has taken it upon himself to make some declarations from the ramparts of Red Fort this year and said that we are going to roll out a huge amount of fiber and reach each and every village within thousand days. In addition to that there are some policies that he has announced like the cyber policy which is going to affect telecom rollout in a major way. The next 25 years are expected to be even more exciting as the country has big plans for mobility and data inclusion.”

Akhil Gupta, Deputy Group CEO,Bharti Enterprises Limited
“The future of the telecom industry is bright and there is a great potential. This is an ever evolving industry, and we are at the doorsteps of 5G. This industry needs huge capital investments, we need to keep on expanding networks. In order to do that, there are a couple of things that need to be done.

The government will need to walk the talk. They would have to now start living the fact, that they need to keep minimum pricing on spectrum. Perhaps they could look at a situation, where instead of equated yearly instalments for spectrum payments, there is a ballooning payment/increasing payments, over the years. As the network gets established and the revenue streams start coming in, maybe the annual instalments can keep increasing.

If the operators themselves do not maintain the discipline on pricing, the regulator would need to step in. While all the stakeholders support free pricing and laissez-faire, the regulator must look to ensure financial health of the industry.

Right of way is another important factor, on which a lot of work is being already done by DoT and the state governments.
Also, there is no reason why this industry continues to be taxed 18 percent GST, virtually the highest slab.

I think those rationalizations need to take place. With these I am very confident and optimistic that we are going to play a second innings, which is going to be even brighter, and even more successful than what we had in the first 25 years.

This is an industry which the nation depends on, generating a lot of employment and capital formation. It is the duty of all the players, whether in passive infrastructure sharing, which anyway should also move on to active sharing, operators, the government, or the regulator, to make the industry financially healthy once again. Collectively, we all must to ensure that, as we go forward, India remains and leads the world in telecom evolution.

Nitin Bansal Managing Director, India Head-Networks, Market Area South East Asia, Oceania and India, Ericsson
“During this period of coronavirus, we at Ericsson, have together with the service providers been continuously working hard to ensure that connectivity works well in this time of need. The mobile networks in India are proving yet again that they can deliver the performance and reliability to support the society in this hour of need. Smartphones and 4G have already transformed the way we communicate, consume and live. With 5G we are entering the next generation of mobile communications. coupled with an array of other new technological solutions, like internet of things, edge computing , artificial intelligence and machine learning. 5G is powering the fourth industrial revolution without any doubt.

Based on our experience, at Ericsson, we see 5G having a huge impact across different industries, and playing an increasing role across business applications and throughout society. We see a lot of potential for 5G connecting multiple devices and ecosystem in India.

We have also demonstrated a few of these as an industry partner.

We need to come together and make sure we are able to use 5G in an effective way to solve the problems in India. The time to act is now.”

Randeep Raina Chief Technology Officer, Nokia Networks
On how the ecosystem itself will change and how it will ultimately benefit the customer

“Network automation and service orchestration will now come forward much more effectively than in the recent past. To connect the billion devices, a touchless provisioning and a seamless migration of new platforms would be needed. A service orchestration layer, on top of the connective layer, will ensure that there is a frictionless adoption of IoT services, applications and use cases. This will have to be managed completely, with an end-to-end, seamless connectivity, with a proper system integration of the devices. The application, physical and security layers will have to be provisioned and created in this.”

Badri Gomantam, Chief Technology Officer-Telecom, Sterlite Technologies Ltd.
With the advent of upcoming technologies such as AI, AR/VR and IoT, the market and enterprise customers are also expected to transform. On how the industry is preparing for this change and the market will grow and transform.

“I see a fairly energetic drive in getting the connectivity elements of the radio technologies, the associated software stacks and hardware stacks out in the market as quickly as possible. There is a robust momentum toward 5G.

The number of connected devices is expected to exponentially increase, and the industry is preparing for it by investing in both, the fundamental silicon technologies to advance the cause of intelligence edge computing and bringing the compute stack closer to the endpoints of connectivity. And driving that into a much more sophisticated way to create business analytics and bring it at a much lower latency. This will improve the decision-making criteria at a significantly better cost profile.”

Jonathan Homa, Chief Technology Officer-Telecom, Sterlite Technologies Ltd
On what kind of use cases are you seeing on the implementation of IoT, especially when it comes to future of mobility?

“We recently sponsored a study specifically in the area of gaming. One of the interesting statistics that we saw is, that active gamers have not only increased their usage from 3.5 hours pre-COVID to 4.5 hours post-COVID, but also the kind of devices they use and also devices that they can eventually control on other parts of the network. Another major application which would go along with IoT is e-health. It would be self-monitoring diagnostics from home, at one end of the spectrum, and remote surgeries at the other. When we put the findings together, we saw that the users were willing to pay more for better services in the network. Out of 5000 gamers, and this is worldwide, 60 percent of them said that they would pay 50 percent more for a better kind of connectivity service than they have today.

Between those two applications of gaming and e-health, we see major changes taking place in the way the network will be used.

Take this one step further, we no longer will be able to have a network that one size fits all. When there are more people willing to pay more for different levels of service for different applications, we need to be able to take this common infrastructure, and create stratification of that, so that it is a win-win both, for the consumer and for the telephone companies providing the services. Right now, companies as Amazon and AWS have different strata of customers, who pay for different levels of service. We are going to have to move to a similar model in the telephone company world too.”

Digvijay Sharma, Senior Director Sales, Ciena
On how cloudification of network architecture is going to change the landscape for the telecom industry and the future of mobility going forward

“Cloudification gets you away from physical infrastructure. The key aspect IoT and 5G is how faster you reach to the cloud. In the current context, the device is connected to a tower, then to the access device, then to a city aggregation, to regional aggregation and core and then to internet, where the cloud resides. Robotics, remote surgery and various IoT-related applications would require very low latency. And for that the cloud would need to move to the edge, i.e. mobile edge computing would bring into play, another new dynamic, the overall architectural aspect and how the networks would be laid. The key role of cloud here is changing.

To come back to the original point, cloud gives a lot of scale and flexibility and the capacity that you see in public clouds is enormous. Instances as servers crashing in peak sale periods for Amazon or Flipkart no longer happen. The elasticity of scale provided by cloud helps handle the complexity that comes with IoT. The cloud moving to the edge provides immersive experience around AR and latency to certain applications like driverless cars.”

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