2018 was an important year of change for the Indian telecom sector. There was much appreciation from multiple quarters for the first ever Digital Communications Policy (and the change from Telecom to a truly Digital Communications approach was commendable). India has the second largest mobile phone user base in the world and the growth and robustness of Telecom sector has a prominent role in our national agenda. Consolidation of the Indian telecom sector is now complete and now the large players can focus on delivering better value to subscriber base while also betting higher on enterprise solutions.
2019 would be an important one for India from a 5G roll out standpoint. Our work with the Department of Communications leads us to believe that the roll out will be non-elitist and will allow rural India to reap the benefits of better data speeds as much as their urban counterparts. 5G has the potential to become a key catalyst especially in adoption of technologies like Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning, and Augmented Reality (AR) by industries at grass root levels.
Dealing with data privacy issues, clear spectrum allocation, and a planned 5G infrastructure are key to successful implementation and some clear directions have been provided by the high-level 5G forum, towards these objectives. The spectrum auctions are expected to be held in the second half of 2019 and we are keen to be one of the early adopters of the technology. The ecosystem stakeholders are currently in trial phases and expect a rollout by 2020.
For a sector where the import costs are still high, TRAI has set an ambitious target of zero equipment imports by 2022. Improved infrastructure, ability to deliver in congruence with MTCTE (Mandatory Testing and Certification of Telecom Equipment’s) regime and creating a pool of skilled workforce are need of the hour. We believe that the Make in India movement and the recommendation for a Rs.1,000 crore fund for promoting research and innovation in the sector will go a long way in achieving this target. Another area where this will have a positive impact is on the IPs held by Indian firms. It is an oft cited data point that India’s research and development expenditure is only 0.8 percent of its GDP (compared to 4.3 percent for Republic of Korea and 4.1 percent for Israel).
‘Make in India’ scheme is expected to create 100 million new jobs by 2022 in manufacturing sector alone, and account for 25 percent of the country’s GDP by 2022 and the Phased Manufacturing Programme provides an ambitious goal of 520 million locally manufactured mobile handsets by 2020. What that leads us to, is the most important piece of this puzzle – Skills. Much has been written about the employability of Indian engineers. Many institutions, including the IET, are working closely with the industry and academia in a bid to benchmark our engineering programmes against that of global engineering institutions, providing students with exposure and knowledge of practical engineering aspects as well as avenues for showcasing their skills and coming up with innovative solutions. However, this is a space where more energy and efforts are always welcome.
The government has been aggressive in its approach and cognizant of the fact that telecom is indeed the backbone, critical to the success of Make in India programme. The industry- government dialogues need to accelerate pace and collaborations need to materialise fairly quickly to attain the key milestones laid out in the DCP 2018.
Summing up, I am positive that 2019 will be a year of much hardwork, focus, and achievements for the Indian telecom sector.