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Lower entry barriers to hardware imports; include XR in PLI scheme, COAI

Indian telecom operators have called for lower entry barriers to hardware imports and higher incentives for XR (AR/VR) device manufacturing in India, specifically for the Metaverse.

They suggested that a regulatory framework for the Metaverse is unnecessary as creating a new legal framework could lead to uncertainties and overlaps with existing laws.

The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), in its submission to telecom regulator Trai, suggested including XR technology and related products in the production linked incentive (PLI) scheme and other incentives in the form of tax benefits to attract XR-related hardware manufacturers to the country.

COAI represents private telecom operators Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and equipment makers like Nokia and Ericsson.

“Lack of affordable hardware in India impacts the ability of the Indian ecosystem to reap the benefits of the Metaverse economy and underlying futuristic technologies. Many companies are working to make XR devices more affordable over time. Still, there are several things the government could consider doing now that would have an immediate effect on the price of devices, including lowering tariffs,” COAI said in its counter comments on Trai’s consultation paper on promoting 5G transformation.

Indian telecom operators want to tap the Metaverse opportunity with their 5G services. They want to partner with content providers and over-the-top players to enable several use cases.

Metaverse is a new-age business in a virtual world powered by virtual reality, augmented reality and blockchain technologies. People can play, work and shop across different platforms using digital tools and augmented reality (AR) headsets. The gaming ecosystem, in particular, is set to gain from the Metaverse push.

In its consultation paper, the regulator Trai asked stakeholders to suggest policy measures required to create awareness and promote the use of Metaverse in the country.

The telco body said that the authorities could also explore easing the requirement of multiple certifications for selling devices in India.

Presently, testing and certification for telecom and related IT equipment is broadly under the purview of several agencies across different ministries. These include the Bureau of Indian Standards and the Telecommunication Engineering Centre, which administers the Mandatory Testing and Certificate of Telecom Equipment (MTCTE) requirements.

“Due to this complex administrative structure, it is likely that certain types of devices, like VR/AR devices, would have to adhere to multiple standards, testing and certification requirements. Harmonizing the testing and certification functions will ensure that the overlap between different administrative agencies is limited,” COAI said.

The body added that the collaborative implementation of regulatory sandboxes between various regulators could also be one of the ways to address entry barriers for specific use cases.

The COAI also added that there is no separate need for a regulatory framework to govern the development and use of the Metaverse as the Metaverse does not exist in a regulatory vacuum.

“The current legislative framework goes a long way in effectively governing the industry and adequately addresses issues arising out of or in connection with the Metaverse. Any contemplation of a fresh legislative framework to govern the Metaverse could create regulatory uncertainty arising from overlaps with existing laws,” it said.

The telco body said policymakers might consider creating a central multi-stakeholder agency to coordinate and build a consensus on domestic priorities and interests concerning metaverse standards and guidelines.

“We recommend that TRAI, DoT, and telecom service providers work with BIS and such bodies to develop a holistic metaverse framework in line with global developments.”

The COAI also said the government could collaborate with telecom operators to set up a “metaverse-friendly technological infrastructure”. “High-speed internet as a foundational component can be achieved by investing and focusing on building necessary network frameworks which support 5G.”

The body said global industry-wide cooperation on interoperable standards will be critical to building the Metaverse. It suggested that Indian stakeholders, including developers, experts, companies, startups, and academia, should look to participate and contribute to the global standard-setting process actively.

“The Metaverse will reach its full potential only if built on a foundation of common technical standards and protocols…the development of technical standards in specific areas is, therefore, crucial to a baseline level of interoperability that mirrors the kind of open internet protocols, lowering barriers to entry and facilitating market access by small firms and developers,” it added. Moneycontrol

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