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Future growth of telecom industry in India

For the Indian Telecommunications industry, 2022 was a significant year, with the services taking another generational leap with the launch of 5G services in the country. The Digital Infrastructure industry stood up to the challenge and commenced the task of densification of networks. The roll-out of 5G networks began in October 2022 and targets 200 cities and suburban regions by March 2023. As of 1 January 2023, there are approximately 7.4 lakh telecom towers, roughly 23.9 lakh base transceiver stations and approximately 8.5 lakh BTS are fiberized across India.

To roll out 5G in India, small cells will be used to upgrade and expand the network, particularly in higher frequency bands with limited range and cannot pass through obstacles and will be used to manage traffic on the network. Using existing street furniture for small cells can avoid the need for new towers and lead to cost-effective and rapid deployment. These small cells will require backhaul connectivity, which can be established through aerial fibre deployment using street furniture. However, the deployment of small cells and aerial fibre on street furniture may be hindered by several issues, including identifying suitable street furniture, scalability concerns, and local approval and safety issues.

India has approximately 3.5 million kilometres of OFC, and about 36% of towers are fiberized. It is necessary to explore and utilize the opportunities presented by next generation-networks like 5G and other pioneering network access technologies. As per NBM targets, by the end of 2024, 70% of towers will be fiberized. There is hence a big challenge to achieve, which will require the Government to enhance the Scope of IP-1s, permitting them to share active infrastructure.

The Government of India has played a pivotal role in ensuring a smooth 5G roll-out and a conducive environment for uptake with considerable investments, policies, and reforms. Some of the government initiatives include:

  • The Indian Government introduced a draft telecommunications bill in September 2022 that would replace existing telecommunications services, networks, and infrastructure laws. The aim of the Bill is to establish a comprehensive and updated system for regulating telecommunications in the country. It expands the definitions of various terms, including “telecommunication service,” and introduces strict regulatory rules for both Internet service providers and users.
  • The GatiShakti Sanchar portal was launched to accelerate approvals for fibre and tower installations and can be used by industry players to apply for 5G services. This portal envisages bringing transparency, accountability and responsiveness to all stakeholders while processing the application. It has further helped in “Ease of Doing Business” as the application process for installation of Digital Infrastructure is being delayed due to inconsistency and uncertainty of policy and processes. It requires maintaining a fast-tracking application process to overcome the implementation challenges of Right of Way Rules. This would provide a robust mechanism to achieve the “Broadband to All” goal as envisaged in the National Digital Communication Policy 2018. The portal has been a game-changer and brought down the average processing time of applications from more than 200 days to nearly 9 days.
  • The Government plans to set up 100 labs in India for 5G technology development and collaboration between the private sector, academia, and Government.
  • The BharatNet project aims to provide broadband connectivity to approximately 260,000-gram panchayats and is being implemented in phases to connect every village through optical fibre by 2025.
  • The DoT amended the Right of Way Rules and launched the Indian Telegraph Right of Way – Amendment Rules, 2022, to facilitate faster 5G roll-out, clarify the term “street furniture,” and allow for bulk processing of applications.
  • The Ministry of Railways announced its revised Right of Way policy, which permitted private telecom companies to install towers on land owned by the ministry. It would also enable the users travelling by train to get a better experience. Railways 70 divisions will now also allow the installation of small cells and pole mounts in the station premises and offices. The move to allow licensing of railway land to private entities for the installation of telecom towers shall bring down costs and boost efficiency and telecom connectivity.

India has made significant progress in telecommunications with the roll-out of 5G networks. It is looking to participate in developing global 6G standards by forming the 6G Technology Innovation Group (TIG). The future growth of the telecom industry in India is expected to be driven by advances in 5G and 6G, which have the potential to improve communication and connectivity, increase efficiency, and drive economic growth. However, challenges such as expanding optical fibre coverage and improving cybersecurity policies must be addressed. With the right approach, the Indian digital infrastructure industry has the potential to establish strong recognition in the global market and play a key role in realizing the vision of a Digital India. Digital Infrastructure development is crucial for the digital economy and should consider factors such as digital availability, access, appetite, and abilities.

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