K Rajaraman, Chairman, DCCI and Secretary, Telecom, DoT, has enough on his plate for the next four months. Scheduled to retire October 2023, the gold medalist from TKM College of Engineering, Kollam, typically with a 12-hour working day, is keen to see that the blueprint for the third phase of BharatNet project, optical fiber connectivity to the remaining 45,000 GPs and 400,000 villages, and mobile coverage to 45,000 villages by early 2024 via BSNL’S 4G saturation program, Aspirational Districts program and LWE areas projects is laid out. After having ensured availability of sufficient mid-band spectrum for 5G auctions and the allocation of E band, the chairman is working toward making adequate spectrum available for the next round of auctions. The commercial revival of BSNL, planning the execution of pending USOF projects, and streamlining RoW approvals are also high on his agenda. Before he retires, he would like to be assured that mobile services will be provided to all the villages in India, and that every nook and corner of this vast country will be connected by one or more of the three – mobile, fixed broadband, and satellite.
With BSNL poised for a turnaround, the three private telcos – Rjio, Bharti Airtel, and Vi – closed FY23 with combined gross revenues of ₹3.1 lakh crore, significantly higher than ₹2.6 lakh crore in FY22. AGR saw an increase from ₹2.06 lakh crore in FY22 to ₹2.36 lakh crore in FY23, as did the license fee collections for the government from ₹15,000 crore in FY22 to ₹16,700 crore in FY23. This revival is expected to be sustained over the coming years, as the Indian telcos continue to aggressively expand their network. However, their US counterparts, be it Verizon, AT&T or T-Mobile have a different story to tell, and with excess inventory in H1 FY24, they are expected to rein in the CapEx.
Shifting gears, the US government has officially kicked off USD 140.5 million as the first round of USD 1.5 billion Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund, to be administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). Specifically, the funding will go to support expansion of industry-accepted testing and evaluation, focusing on interoperability, performance, and security of open and interoperable, standards-based 5G radio access networks, and developing or improving the testing of those networks and their component parts. The testing and R&D industry is finally getting the attention it deserves.