India is the second largest telecom market in the world, with over a billion mobile subscribers. The growth in the telecom market over the last decade has brought in unprecedented opportunities, and completely changed the way businesses and citizens function across the country. As of today, 90 million Indians have shopped online as compared to 35 million in 2015. 480 million cabs have been booked online and 21 billion m-wallet transactions have taken place in the period of 2015–2017. The next stage of India’s telecom journey is however even more exciting as India is now entering the high-speed broadband age.
Imagine a time when small agricultural fields become smart agriculture fields by using IoT and smart sensors to monitor soil moisture and nutrient levels, and visual recognition tools to identify diseases or pest attacks on the crop. Concrete cities will become smart cities by becoming highly energy efficient and education is available to every remote corner in India via interactive web-based courses using digital boards! This is what the National Digital Communications Policy 2018 (NDCP18) aims to do – to make India a digitally empowered economy by using high-speed broadband internet connection.
The NDCP18 draft has a pronged mission statement: Create a robust digital communication structure Harness the power of emerging digital technologies such as 4G, IoT, blockchain, cloud, and big data to catalyze industry 4.0 by promoting investments, innovation, and IPR Ensure that all digital communication is safe and secure and reorganizing data as a crucial economic resource
By doing all of the above the government hopes to create 4 million new jobs in the communication sector, and enhance the telecom community contribution to the GDP from 6 percent in 2017 to 8 percent by 2022.
However, broadband connectivity both fixed and mobile, is a critical pillar for ensuring the success of the Digital India mission. Government’s ambition to roll out the optical fiber network to enable fixed line broadband access to 50 percent of households by 2022 seems like a mammoth task. In the past, a number of broadband related projects, including the National Optical Fiber Network – Bharat Net – have been hit by delays and operational inefficiencies and there is a constant need to analyze the cause of delays and take corrective actions. The government also has created Bharat Broadband Nigam Ltd to oversee the optical fiber project and also propose to set up the National Fiber Authority under the National Digital Grid setup plan can help resolve issues related to Right of Way (ROW) and collaboration across various agencies. Adoption of dig once and dig safe policies can be effective to prevent damage of fiber cuts.
The government through NDCP18 aims to provide universal broadband coverage at 50 Mbps to every citizen. Our current speed is 1/10th of that. The Digital India envisioned by NDCP18 can only be fulfilled by pumping in investment, building infrastructure, and by creating large digital ecosystems by joining forces with private and public players. Additionally the policy also proposes to rationalize taxes, levies, and differential duties to incentivize domestic manufacturing of telecom equipment not only for domestic consumption but also for providing a level playing field for exports. A focused approach toward a truly digital India will require government, regulators, and industry to connect, collaborate, and converge for building a sustainable digital economy. Last but not the least, the policy also proposes substantial focus on supporting R&D, setting up regulatory sand boxes, focus on building a robust startup ecosystem and managing data privacy and security aspects in an increasingly global digital environment.
With all elements in place, NDCP18 has the potential to change our lives; however, the key to success lies in getting all stakeholders on-board to support a common agenda and managing the timely execution.