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Nurture the Indian telecom sector, and see the wonders unfold!

Anand Agarwal, STL: “At a recent webinar, I was astounded when FCC Chairman Ajit Pai revealed that the US has opened up 1GHz of spectrum in an unlicensed manner.”

Rajan Mathews, COAI: “USA had made available the entire 6 GHz band available for unlicensed use.  The US, in 5G spectrum is finding 100 Mhz inadequate, whereas in India we are struggling with 45 Mhz.”

RS Sharma, TRAI: “The long-term strategy must be to allow free interplay of the various players in this ecosystem. The telecom platform will have to leapfrog, will have to unbundle, and open up. The current business model is restrictive.”

Read on for detailed dialogue…

COAI announces its new leadership at its AGM
The Cellular Operators Association of India held its Annual General Body Meeting on July 2 for the Financial Year 2019-20, with the announcement of its leadership for the term 2020-21.

Ajai Puri, Chief Operating Officer (India and South Asia), Bharti Airtel Limited, will now hold the position of Chairman. He succeeds Ravinder Takkar, MD & CEO, Vodafone Idea Ltd. Pramod Kumar Mittal, President, Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited, will be the Vice Chairman of the Association.

The AGM was followed by an engaging online panel discussion on “Digital Networks – The Health and Wealth of the Nation” presented by COAI and IMC Studio. The speakers were Anshu Prakash, Secretary (T), and Chairman, DCC; Dr. R.S. Sharma, Chairman, TRAI; Ravinder Takkar, MD & CEO, Vodafone Idea Ltd; Ajay Puri, Chief Operating Officer, India & South Asia, Bharti Airtel Ltd; Sanjay Mashruwala, MD, Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd; and Anand Agarwal, Group CEO, STL.  Rajan S Mathews, DG, COAI moderated the session.

The speakers were unanimous in their observation on the stellar performance the telecom sector exhibited during the crisis period of COVID-19 and cyclones in keeping India connected, on the unstinted support the various departments of the government extended, which made this possible and the recognition that the telecom sector has started receiving that it is the economic and social backbone of the nation, and the key role this sector must play in achieving the Digital India vision of the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.

Excerpts from the presentations

Ravinder Takkar
“For this to happen, we will have to evolve. We will have to convert our infrastructure, our connectivity layer into a platform or an enabling layer where the digital e-commerce will take place. Our industry provides the core infrastructure and core connectivity, we need to transform ourselves into a platform to enable multiple connectivity to take place.

New technologies such as IoT, M2M, ML, AI, blockchain capabilities, these are technologies that have a huge potential. We are through another revolution that is taking place. We saw the internet revolution, and this is the next generation coming from the new technologies. And we as an industry have a lot to contribute.

And key will be collaboration, not only what we can do amongst the players of the industry, but more collaboration with TRAI, DoT and all other governmental bodies. For this to become the required platform will touch all the parts of the government and the economy.”

Dr RS Sharma
“When the going gets tough, the tough gets going!

As at the time of Aadhar in 2009-10, we can show the world the way forward. We are the second largest telecommunication network in the world. This is a great opportunity to join hands and build the very much required digital network. A network that is required in the payment space, e-signatures, the hospital reservations, and many, many more. The foundation of all these new platforms will be provided by the telecom industry, be it connectivity of gigabytes or megabytes or provided by sensors, 5G, IoT, M2M, big data et al.

These are testing times, and the journey is difficult, but this is not new for you, you have walked the tortuous path since 20 years!”

Anshu Prakash
“The telecom industry, including COAI have done a tremendous job. India could not have dealt with this pandemic without the support and perseverance of the digital network and the telecom sector. On March 22, when lockdown started, the mobile data consumption jumped from 270 to 303 petabytes, and then stabilized to 297-300 petabytes.

No doubt, multi-stakeholder effort is critical, the industry, the government, regulator, and of course, the consumer all have to collaborate for both the health and wealth of the nation and for taking the digital footprint to greater heights.”

The National Broadband Mission launched in December 2019 will be very critical for the digital networks in the country. We should seize the opportunity. COVID has posed great challenges, but also given the telecom and digital sector a never before opportunity to catapult ourselves to a new league altogether. And this will be encouraged by all sections of the government and by the society at large.

May we all together move to achieve the vision of Digital India!”

Ajay Puri
“Industry has provided a strong and backbone to keep the nation providing one billion connected at this difficult hour. Very few countries and very few industries would be able to achieve this feat at such a short. Be it large businesses or small businesses operating remotely, schools, colleges, telemedicine, ecommerce, doctors giving advice, no lives were disrupted.

India moved in the pandemic. Offices to res, urban to rural, traffic shifted overnight. Our field engineers, serviced the existing customers and huge rush form incremental demand.

I would like to thank the state and central government, the ministry, DoT and TRAI all enabled us to serve the nation.

This industry is poised for growth, for a never seen before era, and we must all rise to the occasion. Moving forward, we will all need to come together as one united body to create a digital platform and take the nation forward.”

Sanjay Mashruwal
“With 500 crore Indians now using the 4G enabled data, the internet is no longer just for the privileged class. We have achieved a lot, but still have far to go!

Telecom as a utility is as important as power and water. Digital Connectivity is absolutely essential for our requirements. In spite of having got unstinted support from DoT, TRAI and so many other departments, unfortunately, but that same message has not yet gone all the way down to the people who are involved in supporting telecom.  The same priority is not being felt by many of authority. That shortcoming of telecom is realised at the time of calamity, and if certain timely steps are taken we can overcome these slight handicaps, saves lives, and recover from calamity even faster than what we have been doing in the past.”

Anand Agarwal
“The current pandemic has made this shift permanent. In telecom there was largely one application, voice with some text thrown in, and the only asset was spectrum. But within digital, there is a clear demarcation between a platform and an infrastructure. A platform is a service provisioning platform with all kinds of and the technologies like AI, blockchain etc and applications ranging from healthcare to video conferencing to entertainment, while infrastructure is the network that many of us are creating.

In the digital paradigm, the separation of service provisioning with applications and infrastructure ownership will start becoming very apparent. The usage patterns have changed, locationally not only from office to home but have also shifted and to becoming symmetric, from one-way download traffic to download and upload traffic. There is a large increase in traffic, with more and more asynchronous applications. Enterprises have come to the infrastructure for the first time and in a major way.  All the applications we are taking for granted, whether it is sales force on cloud, SAP on cloud, we are collaborating on the cloud on real time, and where latency starts becoming extremely important. This current shift to the digital would require a new kind of infrastructure and architecture. A converged wired and wireless will co-exist, fibre-plus 5G and fibre-plus wifi and will be connectivity with storage and compute together.

The third attribute is that the network is becoming disaggregated, with distinct hardware and software separation.

These provide a great opportunity for India to be catapulted to the new league.

And this requires a new kind of investment. Till now the investments on the digital infrastructure has been 0.3-0.4 percent of the GDP. Globally, most countries are spending 1.5-2 percent.

Multiple initiatives have been taking at a global level in this regard. I was on a panel with FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai a couple of days back. I was astounded to learn that the US has opened up 1GHz of spectrum in unlicensed manner. I see that as an investment by the govt. By unlicensing 1GHz of wifi-6 spectrum, and not waiting to monetise that within 1-2 years of auction, will spur innovation and demand and the use cases that is mind boggling.

We have to focus toward creating that sort of investment and I would urge the govt and TRAI Chairman to how we can create unlicensed spectrum where telcos can offload traffic, private enterprise usage starts and where local buildouts of localized wifi network starts happening, very similar to the kind of cable TV networks we had, and that is the need of the hour.”

RS Sharma
“Now that we are not only connecting 1.2 billion individuals but also connecting 50 billion things, this will require a completely new paradigm, an absolutely new business model. The long-term strategy must be to allow free interplay of the various players in this ecosystem. The telecom platform will have to leapfrog, will have to unbundle, and open up. The current business model is restrictive. There is a need to be more futuristic and understand the important role we can play. Innovation must be allowed to happen; new markets be created, and new use cases allowed to come up.”

Anshu Prakash
“Our wireline infrastructure has to accelerate and increase manifold.  TRAI had given a recommendation on wireline, way back in 2015.

Also, E&V bands have huge potential. As we move to 5G, and even otherwise, the huge potential in this band needs to be tapped. DoT is seized of the issue, in fact the NDCP has also identified this as an actionable point.”

COAI AGM report: Digital Networks-The Health & Wealth of the Nation

-CT Bureau

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