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Crossing all hurdles, telecom industry keeps the nation connected amidst COVID-19

The telecom sector in India has maintained one of the largest and complex voice and data networks seen anywhere globally. It supports a huge subscriber base of approximately 1.2 billion, second to China, with monthly data consumption above that of USA and China. With a robust infrastructure of over 596,000 mobile towers and more than 22 lakh BTSs in the country, the sector provides broadband connectivity to around 650 million subscribers. The telecom industry contributes 6.5 percent to the GDP and has invested over `11.25 lakh crore to take the benefit of mobile services to every Indian at rock bottom tariffs, which are globally the most affordable.

Telecom is now an essential service for the social and economic backbone of the country, and without it, most of the government’s ambitious programs like Digital India, Smart City, etc., will not be possible. The success of many government and private sector initiatives and programs hinges largely on adequate telecom and internet infrastructure being in place. The renewed focus on technologies such as cloud computing, IoT, AI, VR, robotics, device-agnostic tech solutions, as outlined by the government in the recent Union Budget, reiterate the importance of the industry.

As the industry was still coming to terms with the massive financial burden, a tsunami in the form of COVID-19 hit both the country and the industry. Despite the huge financial debt of `7.7 lakh crore, the industry continues to ensure that the uptime of their networks remains at 99.99 percent, while maintaining key quality of service parameters. All telecom networks in India are geared to meet the increase in demand for bandwidth owing to work-from-home, communication needs, and data usage for entertainment.

This would not have been possible without the support from the DoT, home ministry (local police), ministry of health, state governments, and other stakeholders, as they are at the forefront fighting the pandemic. The standard operating procedure issued by the home ministry in the movement of staff and logistics to maintain the network was a significant relief.

As per the active engagement of telcos with other stakeholders such as streaming platform players, and the DoT, OTT players supported by reducing the video quality from HD to SD. Local municipalities supported by de-sealing the sealed cell sites. The industry has aggressively pursued with all the stakeholders to provide safety, accessibility, and bandwidth to mobile phone users during these challenging times. Telcos placed representatives in kirana stores, medical stores, Bank ATMs, and other locations, approved to be kept open by the government, so customers can recharge their mobile phones. Telecom companies have also gone the extra mile to ensure those at the bottom of the pyramid receive some free voice services and SMS services during the period of quarantine. The ultimate objective for all the exercise and efforts is to keep people connected and safe until the authorities working to solve the COVID-19 threat can come up with a permanent solution. Based on the current status, operators believe they can now continue to provide reliable and quality services to customers.

The industry is convinced that with a growing focus on telecom and the technologies that will be operated on its networks, like – artificial intelligence, augmented reality, robotics, and remote monitoring – India is poised to be among the fastest-growing economies, as we restart the fourth industrial revolution in a post-COVID-19 era.

We believe that the government, civil society, the judiciary, industry, and the operators must come together and work uniformly to achieve our Hon’ble Prime Minister’s vision of making India a data and knowledge global powerhouse, which can then provide global leadership. A five-trillion-dollar economy is not a pipe dream but a reality to be grasped and made real. We are confident the telecom sector will play its part in making India a digitally connected nation.