Achieving the SDGs

This year, the theme of World Telecommunication and Information Society Day “Connect 2030: ICTs for the Sustainable Development Goals reflected the way forward for the next 10 years and transition to smart and sustainable development, with five strategic goals – Growth, Inclusiveness, Sustainability, Innovation and Partnership.

WTISD-20 gave ITU’s members an opportunity to commemorate ICT’s contribution to the past and future advancement of the Information Society and take a look at how technological progress in the coming 10 years will help accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs).

Experts Comment

“The SDG goals can only be achieved if there is availability of broadband connectivity and free internet to each and every citizen of India. We call upon the government to work on four major goals in order to realize the initiative of Atmanirbhar India. These are:

  • Low-cost 5G spectrum for operators in 3.6GHz and 26GHz through immediate spectrum auctions without any reserve price;
  • Delicense E and V bands for backhaul, as well as last mile high-speed Internet access.
  • Delicense additional 1200MHz for WiFi in 6GHz, with technical conditions to protect satellite uplinks, similar to what USA has done; and-
  • Small area and captive telecom licensing to be delicensed to support industrial, captive and campus based telecom networks.”

Bharat Bhatia, President, ITU-APT Foundation of India

“SDGS were adopted by all the UN member states in 2015. We all know that these goals are the blueprint to achieve peace and prosperity for the people across the world irrespective of their countries development status, like hunger and all other common issues which confront the humanity are a part of the SDGs.

Under the UN strategy, there are other short term plans and strategies which will supplement the efforts to achieve the mandate of UN regarding the SDGs.

This year’s theme decided by ITU as Connect 2030: ICTs for Sustainable Development Goals reflects on the ICT advances for transition to smart and sustainable development in 5 strategic goals, growth, inclusiveness, sustainability, innovation and partnership and shows the way forward for next 10 years for transition to smart and sustainable development. These strategic goals, included in NDCP 2018 indicates India’s commitment to achieve them in time for the benefits for the society.

I have on multiple occasions expressed my appreciation for the telecom sector in our country for supporting virtually every sector in managing the present crisis, I do so again on this occasion. If this crisis had happened 20 years back, it would have been very difficult to sustain a lockdown of this length and half the population would have emerged mentally sick after the lockdown was over. It is only telecom, which has ensured that we remain mentally fit and connected, while following social distancing. The telecom and the ICT sector have been the main vehicle for extending the benefit to the society across the world, albeit, while doing so have added responsibility of fighting with effects of COVID-19.

In India, we have quickly taken the advantage of ICT’s expertise and developed Aarogya Setu application that is helping us track COVID-19 patients and predict the hotspots. A number of applications, referred as India-Stack, which includes the electronic KYC, and digital signatures on demand has been developed. The payment infrastructure is robust with 0.25 billion transactions at USD 30 million in April. What is required is a vibrant internet infrastructure.

With reference to Bharat Bhatia’s proposals, all the proposals have also been recommended by TRAI. Of course, 5G spectrum auctions without any reserve price may be difficult to be accepted.

I conclude, wishing that all of us continue to work toward achieving sustainable development in spite of current challenges, and am sure we will come out of this crisis successfully.”
R S Sharma, Chairman, TRAI

“We are seeing how much we depend on telecommunications in the information society in so many different ways and by so many different organizations and countries around the world. More than ever before collaboration, coordination and cooperation between all stakeholders is essential. We all need to bring around specific competencies to the table. Many thanks to all those working with ITU for their effort. Let me take this opportunity to thank ITU-APT Foundation of India for leading India’s participation in ITU activities.   The Foundation is already a member of the ITU-T-sector, ITU-D-sector and with the council’s endorsement will soon be a member of the ITU-R-sector.

We look forward to continuing our close association with India in all the three sectors. India will be hosting the next ITU World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly and the new ITU Area Office and Innovation Centre for South Asia and C-DoT in New Delhi.

We expect to see increased participation from India, especially in the private sector, including start-ups as well as academia. I am very grateful to the Indian government for its strong support of ITU and look forward to helping India achieve all its ambitious goals for this sector, set by the Prime Minister.

Let’s hope some good will come of this terrible COVID-19 pandemic. Never before has so much reliance, appreciation and emphasis been placed on telcom and information  societies. As a result, I believe it will be sooner, rather than later, that everyone, everywhere will benefit from the technology and from the new normal way of life, a way of life much more sustainable than the old. The planet and all of us will benefit from the reduction in the emissions and pollution and a better work life balance as a result of this new way of working, thanks to our technology. So despite the difficulties and the challenges we face, I believe something good will come of this, eventually. And let’s look forward to when we can all meet again.”
Malcolm Johnson Deputy Secretary General, ITU, Geneva

“Given a ten year span,  achieving the SDGs looks totally plausible. In the last 55 days, one thing has been proven to the world that telecom is one of the most critical infrastructures. However, now expectations are going to be much higher.

This pandemic has fast-forwarded our responsibilities. Telecom is expected to deliver at a much shorter notice, in a more robust manner.

In terms of SDGs, be it food sustainable agricultural practices, aiming at one nation, one ration card; reaching education to every corner of the country, especially rural India, or digital payments, all hinge on robust telecom connectivity. Every dream of the nation builders will depend on the telecom infrastructure backbone in place.

For instance, Goal 9,  building a resilient infrastructure, to promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and to foster innovation. This is possible only when each service provider ensures seamless robust connectivity, be it fiberisation of towers, availability of power 24x 7 power, or FTTH to each and every household. More and more dependence on telecom will emerge. 2030 is too away. We are asking for deliverance in the next two months. Let’s commit to the entire humanity that we will deliever, and they can depend on us so that we can achieve the SDGs.”
Hari Ranjan Rao, Joint Secretary,  Dept. of Telecommunications

“At this critical time in our history, the message that the technologies that have been developed and help us to meet the challenges we face, need to be reiterated and explained. We must in particular address the digital divide that keeps those in need and the technologies that can help them. The UN SDGs are a fine guide for us in setting the challenging targets and for the industry community to achieve.

The most directly relevant goals for our industry from the SDGs is goal 9,  building a resilient infrastructure, to promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and to foster innovation. Developing quality, reliable, sustainable and resilient infrastructure, will support economic development and human well-being, with a focus on affordable and equitable access for all. For instance, AI is an important tool and joining with Machine Learning for 5G challenge, and taking secure and privacy, protective measures will be essential.

Re the goal, we should promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and, by 2030, significantly raise industry’s share of employment and gross domestic product, in line with national circumstances, we see our industry playing a major role in this and the work that we are doing supports this development

Re the goal, by 2030, we should upgrade infrastructure and retrofit industries to make them sustainable, with increased resource-use efficiency and greater adoption of clean and environmentally sound technologies, we see an important case for a new green radio program of research to develop more sustainable ways of using radio technology.

Re the goal, we should enhance scientific research, in particular in developing countries, and substantially increasing the number of research and development workers, in public and private R&D spending, WWRF is doing considerable work to enable this.

Re the goal, we should facilitate sustainable and resilient infrastructure development in developing countries through enhanced financial, technological and technical support to African countries, least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and again by engaging with our members in developing countries, we are able to achieve this.

Re the goal, we should significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020, this is a great challenge and we all need to work together to achieve it.

The Wireless World Research Forum is the unique global research-based organization which deals with all types of telecommunication technology. We have members  from all parts of the world. We bring together the R&D community from the industry, academia and government, and then further the roadmap, that will enable us all to join the wireless world together and overcome the roadblocks on the way.

We are proud to work with our many partners including ITU,  and in India with TSDSI, the ITU-APT Foundation, and Broadband India Forum. We have fond memories of the WWRF 5G HUDDLE that we ran with our partners in Delhi in February, back in the days when we could travel to meetings.

What comes next, after 5G ? It is important that developing countries play a strong role in setting requirements and developing a vision here.

I send greetings to all our members and friends in India and we look forward to continuing to work with you.  Let us commit ourselves on the occasion of this WTIS Day to working together to bring technology and humanity closer together and promoting informed and inclusive debate to the Connect 2030 agenda.”
Nigel Jefferies, Chairman, Wireless World Research Forum, UK

“India has a huge amount of potential and opportunity, and we need to mine it and take advantage of it. If anything has shown it, its been the last 60-90 days, that we can innovate, develop home-grown applications, our own resources and resilience. It is imperative that we invite investments into our sector. Opportunities are great, innovation must happen and it must be backed up by the development of IPR if we are to take the benefit of these innovations and the startup economy that we are encouraging and the huge opportunities that we have in India.

The second point I would like to emphasize, on behalf of our membership is that the health of the nation depends on the health of our infrastructure, mainly our networks. Unfortunately, over the last several years we have been falling short in this particular area and we need to look at the continuing needs to invest in our infrastructure so that we can continue to meet the needs of our customers, the industry and our government, as we move forward. We have talked about what it means to return liquidity to the industry, to reduce the levies on the taxes on the industry. No industry can continue to afford to make the investments in our infrastructure when 30 percent of their revenue that comes in from the door is taken by the government and not invested back. That has to change. The health of the industry, the health of our sector is the health of the nation.

The third point I would like to make is that Right of Way is absolutely key and essential. We have to ensure that we can put up our cell towers where we need them, the citizens need them, and we can continue to fiberize the networks so that we can deliver the experience that customers are required at the speeds and prepare this country and the networks for the inception of the new technologies like 5G and 6G and everything else that’s coming down the pipe.

I finally want to say that the spectrum is the building block of our industry. It is the cement and it must be provided at very-very affordable rates. We have seen the damage exuberant biddings has done and the debt that has come up. We must find a the new paradigm of getting this resource into the hands of the folks who can invest and who can develop it and use it for the benefit of our citizens and our nation.

As we move forward in this and address the investment, the health of the sector, the RoW, the innovation, investments in the IPR, we will become the third largest economy in the world, no questions asked.”
Rajan Mathews, Director General, COAI.

“I bring attention to three issues for consideration. And want to compliment DoT for solving the issue of INI certificates for phones, which was pending for last so many years.

“My first issue is addressing the problem of providing connectivity to Bharat, to the schools in rural areas of India. We need to equip them with a basic smartphone, and affordable internet so that online classes and exams can be held. Before we talk of 5G and 6G, the telecom service operators, amidst their issues of profitability, viability and corporate policy need to address this. BSNL’s vast network could enable this.

The second issue is that while we promote Make in India Atmanirbhar Bharat, and the PPP NRI policy, there are lots of violations even within the DoT’s own units. For instance, the TEC GR had been made compulsory, and yet is not being followed.

The third is with reference to one of the speaker’s comment today that India is telecom consumer and not producer of technologies. India has developed wonderful technologies in the past, and C-DoT has the technology base. We have many innovators in the country who have developed 4G and 5G modules. The problem is, as long as we are depending on telecom operators to deploy the technologies, we have a limitation. For obvious reasons, the private operators are selecting four or five international vendors and we, the indigenous industry does not get an opportunity to work with him.

My request is, taking the cue from UN SDG’s goal. can we involve small operators who can offer solutions beyond telecom like 1E of TRAI or white space?”
NK Goyal, Chairman Emeritus, TEMA

During the pandemic situation, despite various issues and challenges faced by the telecom industry in maintaining uninterrupted telecom operations, the industry is standing tall and our frontline warriors from telecom infrastructure providers are working outdoor tirelessly to ensure that the rest of country can work safe inside.

Thanks to the resilient and robust telecom infrastructure, organizations were able to seamlessly work from home, and it was business as usual for them. I believe, each day of the lock down can be hailed as Telecom Day. Various innovations during the lock-down period have been worked by some sectors like real estate, and education etc. for business continuity.

The robust telecom infrastructure acts as the backbone to enable telecom services. Thus, the role of Telecom Infrastructure Providers has become more critical during such unprecedented crisis. Despite the sudden disruption, infrastructure providers have risen to the occasion and adjusted to remote working.

During the lockdown period, infrastructure providers were saddled with several impediments.

The first and foremost was the movement of the field staff, movement of spares and vehicles to maintain the sites. The arrangement of passes for the field engineers/technician was the first challenge. Availability of diesel at sites was another challenge. There were issues related to availability of power and payment of electricity bills. Warehouse operations was another challenge. It was very essential to maintain all the telecom sites, apart from their continuous monitoring. Manhandling of field engineers and technician was another concern.

The government authorities be it center, or state have provided outstanding support. In fact, the continuity of telecom services was only made possible due to excellent coordination between DoT, regulator, state government, and the industry.

Despite the hardships, the telecom corona warriors, our field engineers have stood the test of time and have maintained the telecom network round-the-clock. Even in the containment zones, the telecom field engineers have rendered services using Personal Protective Equipment kits, masks, gloves, and other protection equipment to keep the networks running uninterruptedly, and thus going beyond their call of duty.

Post COVID environment and policy reforms needed

The pandemic would greatly reshape the business environment. It will lead to strategic changes that would sweep aside old ways of doing things.

The first and foremost, going digital would be the first imperative. Without adopting tools of technology and minimizing the physical contact, no organization would be able to function efficiently. Innovation would become a mantra for success and survival. Input supply chains will have to be reset and made broad based to contain the risk of disruption rather than crush the cost of inventory. Speed, Size and Scale will be of utmost essence, propped by Restructure, Radio, and Rework.

We request the government to expedite the policy reforms in the telecom sector and immediately focus to align the Right of Way policies so as to create a structure of e-enablement of the sector through single window electronic system of clearance in a time bound manner and harmonization of rules in the entire state. To attract investments into the sector, ease of doing business is paramount. So far only 16 states have aligned their policies with central Right of Way Rules, 2016. There is an urgent need to expedite the policy reforms on this front in order to support the digitization wave during and post COVID-2019 environment.

With each business going digital, a huge demand has been generated for ramping up the telecom infrastructure. This would need rebooting of the business and its continuity even business projection would require further refinement and adjustments. The investments in digital technology would bring huge returns as it would facilitate Industry 4.0 and would immensely aid the modifications required to do business in the post-COVID environment.

For attracting the much-needed investments into the sector, TRAI has played its part by recommending the need to expand the scope of IPI. Telecom, being a capital-intensive business, needs huge investment for growth and expansion. IP-1s being neutral host, would offer network with quick turnaround time for telecom towers, base stations, IBS, small cell etc. to service providers in a transparent and non-discriminatory basis to telecom service providers.

These recommendations of the TRAI has come at the right time when the country requires quick investments into the networks due to sudden surge in demand for 24×7 mobile and internet connectivity. Besides, this, these provisions would also assist in attracting the much needs investment in the growth of Digital Economy, Industry 4.0, and in successful implementation of government programs such as Digital India, Make in India, Start-up India, Smart Cities, etc. Further, the launch of the new technologies such as the M2M/IoT, AI, AR/VR etc in the country would be facilitated and expedited as well. The growing popularity of work from home would require more and more inbuilding solutions for strengthening the voice and data connectivity at home. The acceptance of recommendations would boost the digital infrastructure in the country as well.

The key objective of NDCP is to create a robust digital communication infrastructure, which can be used for development in various sectors including education, healthcare, energy, employment, innovation, etc. Thus, the policy implementation will help to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

The National Digital Communication Policy would now require implementation at accelerated pace in order to cope up with the huge surge in data consumption – be it work from home, online education, tele-medicine, e-commerce, or video conferencing. Telecom is now touching all the verticals. The need of the hour is to be expedite the implementation of policy reforms as enunciated in NDCP 2018 including enhancing scope of IPs, expediting National Broadband Mission program, according Telecom Infrastructure the status of Critical and Essential Infrastructure (uninterrupted power supply at industrial rates), according OFC status of public utility, constituting National Fiber Authority of India, amending National Building Code of India for making requirement for telecom installations and the associated cabling and in-building solutions mandatory in all commercial, residential and office spaces.

The COVID-19 situation is going to continue, and we will have to live with this new normal. To support various kinds of emerging applications, data requirements, in building connectivity and new services, India needs to fast forward itself to undertake the policy reforms to have a robust and resilient digital infrastructure.”
TR Dua, Director-General, TAIPA

Based on a virtual webinar organised by ITU-APT, with Communications Today as the media partner on the occasion of World Telecom Information Society Day 2020—CT Bureau

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