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Desh Ki Digital Udaan- Episode 1

If this is not self-reliance, aliás Atmanirbhar, then what is?

In association with COAI and IMC Studio commemorated the telecom industry’s silver jubilee themed, “25 years of Mobility – Desh ki Digital Udaan”, 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 Hindustan Times, Communications Today and TechArc. The session was moderated by Lt Gen Dr SP Kochhar, DG, COAI.

As the Indian telecom sector traverses its journey from mobility only for the elite to for each and every Indian citizen, from Rs 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 fibre cables to building digital networks globally is Sterlite Technologies, better known as STL.If this is not self-reliance, aliás Atmanirbhar, then what is?


Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India

“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.”


Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister for Communications, Electronics & IT, Govt 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 Aatmanirbhar Bharat does not mean India in isolation, but India as a robust contributor in the global supply chains. Honorable 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 , 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, DoT & Chairman DC

“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. Fibre 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 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.”


Sunil Bharti Mittal, Chairman, Bharti Enterprises

“25 years back, India started this journey on the mobile wagon. Airtel and a few others started off in the metro cities, offering services to the rich and elite and COAI was founded at that time. As founder and chairman of COAI, alongwith 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 at 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.

Telecommunications 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 team 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. Telecommunications 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 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 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 Aatmnirbhar is giving us all a clarion call to ensure that more and more value added 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, which founded this industry 25 years back is still holding strong and will continue to serve the needs of the Indian mobile industry.”


Mukesh Ambani, CMD, Reliance Industries Limited

“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 where 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.”


Participants were Dr. Anand Agarwal, Sanjay Malik, Rajesh Nambiar, and Anku Jain, with Jaideep Mehta as the moderator.


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, which 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.”


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 four 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 had already 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.”


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 and truly centralized. These individual domains are critical to ensure that adaptive networking is possible.

We will also need to focus on self-reliant, end-to-end security with a lot more 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.”


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 focussing 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.”
CT Bureau

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