The digital communications sector in India has several great opportunities as well as a few big challenges before it, and it is earnestly hoped that the new government would address these at the earliest. These issues are briefly described below:
Tapping the potential of 5G
- 5G has the potential to achieve a major societal transformation in India. In fact, it is also absolutely integral to the vision of Digital India. The latter is meaningless without 5G.
- Despite best intentions, we are already lagging behind our global peers by about 1 to 2 years. Fifteen operators around the world are already offering commercial 5G services and as many as 211 operators in 87 countries have invested in 5G technology. India has not even commenced trials, which would take up to 12 months.
- We request the minister to arrange for immediate issuance of trial spectrum to have auctions for regular 5G spectrum at the earliest. However, it is extremely important to ensure more reasonable pricing of the spectrum; else the success of 5G and the affordability of these transformational services are seriously at risk.
- Also, integral to the success of 5G is the need to provide more active encouragement and support to the Indian start-ups.
Implementation of NDCP 2018
- The National Digital Communications Policy 2018 is a far-seeing world-class policy, excellently structured to connect, propel, and secure India, elevating Indian telecom to the advanced future-proof stage of digital communications.
- The strategic objectives of broadband for all, creating four million additional jobs in the sector, enhancing the contribution of digital communications to 8 percent of GDP, propelling India to the top 50 nations in the ITU ICT development list, and ensuring digital sovereignty are all top-class goals of paramount importance and we request the minister to help make these happen.
- The special beauty of this policy is that it has been sculpted with the total involvement and consensus of all stakeholders. We desperately need the immediate and wholehearted implementation of the policy to ensure sustainable leadership in the global digital sector.
Make businesses more attractive
The ICT sector needs very large investments. NDCP talks of USD 100 billion requirement. Even this is a conservative figure and an understatement. To attract such investment, the businesses need to be made more profitable and attractive. Exorbitant spectrum prices, very heavy levies and charges, and some onerous license conditions need to be corrected on priority to boost investments.
Other urgent actions required
For the success of broadband for all, 5G, and Digital India, we need to ensure:
- The fiber-first initiative.
- The liberalization of Wi-Fi to achieve 10 lakh urban and 10 lakh rural public Wi-Fi hotspots. Public Wi-Fi is the way to go to accelerate broadband penetration in the country. The TRAI recommendations on liberalized approach to public Wi-Fi correctly highlight steps which are likely to facilitate creation of millions of public Wi-Fi hotspots, and thereby help attain the country’s vision of achieving Digital India.
- Tap the enormous potential of satellite communications by optimization of policy and regulatory framework.
- Encourage and facilitate the vibrant growth of OTTs since these are now the primary engines of data and broadband usage and are contributing heavily to consumer benefit, economic growth, and revenues of telcos. As per ICRIER-BIF Report on Potential to have this value increased to USD 271 billion by 2020, the contribution of internet-based traffic is estimated to grow to nearly 16 percent of the country’s GDP by 2020 or Rs 36 lakh crore (USD 534 billion), of which apps will contribute about half. As per WIK-BIF report on The Economic and Societal Value of Rich Internet Applications in India, each user of applications in India receives on average USD 249 of consumer surplus annually. Applied to the total population, this number stands at USD 74 per capita.