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Rajan S Mathews
Director General,
COAI

A Birds-Eye View Into The Dynamics Of The Indian Telecom Sector

India is the second largest telecommunications market in the world and the first in terms of market potential. For the first time, and not for the lack of trying, India is looking to become a world leader in technology. This is no easy task, but what were mere possibilities a few years ago, are fast turning into tangible reality. The stage is set for the technologies to become so entrenched in our lives that they could easily take over our daily chores and routines.

It is, for this reason, the government, through various initiatives, is pulling out all the stops and pushing for the deployment of 5G-technology-based communications services and allied technologies, such as Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and Big Data Analytics. These technologies coupled with the low latency and high speed of 5G are likely to redefine the way we do almost everything in our daily lives.

One of the biggest changes will be experienced by the telecom service providers, as they will transit from being merely TSPs to becoming an integral part of various types of services such as healthcare, banking, agriculture, and education due to the huge array of services made possible with the new mobile communication technology.

However, some challenges still exist. The sector is currently reeling under a significant amount of debt and hyper-competition amongst the telcos is making it difficult to invest in new technologies. The government has emphasized its commitment to help the industry and has already drawn up a road map to roll out new technologies. A high-level panel made up of senior executives from the major technology companies and service providers operating in the country, along with government officials and academicians have submitted a number of recommendations to the government to ensure roll out of 5G begins at the earliest.

New technologies will play an instrumental role as a catalytic force driving the next phase of growth in the country. The entire eco-system, from handset makers to network managers and equipment vendors have already started testing and working toward the next era of telecommunications in the country.

Apart from 5G, the industry has been working on a number of other services and issues to improve the quality and availability of amenities. Soon, people may be able to use their phones while travelling in airplanes. However, issues pertaining to privacy and security are still getting the finishing touches and this may take some time. With more and more personal data flowing to the cloud, data protection and encryption has become a major issue. In order to tackle this, the Srikrishna committee, formed to look into the issue, has submitted its report as well as a draft of the personal data policy. The telecom regulator is also treating this topic on priority. While individuals have the right to their privacy, the high levels of encryption make it difficult for security agencies to monitor communication, despite obtaining permission to do so.

Issues of privacy and security are steadily getting resolved while other issues related to call drops and poor quality services are also seeing improvement. When it comes to improving service and connectivity, the government is working closely with the telcos to get all states to accept the ROW rules in addition to making abundant spectrum available at affordable rates.

Cloud will rule the technology landscape in the coming years. Not just telecom companies, but all sorts of service providers are using the cloud to deliver higher quality, flexible and more scalable services at much lower costs. On the consumer side, as the cloud becomes more and more accessible through always-on data services on smartphones, the opportunity to provide more services increases. However, bandwidth, space, and speed issues are taking some time to resolve.

Another area that has taken priority for the industry now is customer support. To tackle the avalanche of consumer complaints, digitization in customer support is another game-changing trend. Future analytics-based digital support centers have been set up to track and predict customer issues. This approach provides users with several easy self-service capabilities.

While new technology seems to be the light at the end of the tunnel, the current hyper-competition, dwindling margins, rising debt, and falling revenues, are issues yet to be tackled. The next phase of technology is expected to open up new revenue streams for TSPs, allowing them to fully realize the potential of low latency data, high density and ultra-reliable based services. Everything, ultimately, will benefit the end consumers.

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