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National Digital Communications Policy: Need for a new approach

May 16, 2018
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National Digital Communications Policy: ...
By Kundan Das, Director – APJC and Russia CIS Business Development, Parallel Wireless

The scope of telecom sector is no longer limited to voice calls and text messages. The data revolution that the country has witnessed in last year or so has widened its scope to a much larger horizon.

The new telecom policy, which has been rechristened as the National Digital Communications Policy (NDCP) 2018, is a testament to the fact that telecom is no longer just voice but much more.

This change in approach and the fact that the government is now looking at telecom from a much broader perspective has brought a lot of cheer among the many stakeholders, especially since the policy is coming at a time of distress for the sector. Unprecedented tariff war due to stiff competition has led to shrinking margins and falling average revenue per user (ARPU). At a time like this, the NDCP 2018 gives a direction to the sector lost in uncertainties.

The focus certainly seems to be driving growth through new age technologies such as 5G, internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI).  This has been clearly elucidated in the policy through its Propel India mission.

Propel India seeks to attract $100 billion investment in the digital communications sector and expand India’s IoT ecosystem to 5 billion devices. The focus is also on boosting a technology-based start-up ecosystem, enable these start-ups to develop globally recognised intellectual property rights (IPR) in India, and train one million people in new age skills. The idea seems to find digital solutions for India-specific problems and generate new employment opportunities.

But the mission of propelling India into a new technology space is incomplete without first connecting the whole country to the telecom network. With rural teledensity at 57.4 per cent compared with an urban teledensity of 163.2% per cent, a lot of work needs to be done in this regard.

The Connect India mission envisaged in the policy addresses this problem. It sets the target of providing universal broadband coverage at 50 Mbps to every citizen, fixed line broadband access to 50 per cent of the households, achieving 65 per cent unique subscriber density by 2022 and reaching 10 million people through the deployment of public Wi-Fi.

With growing instances of data theft and privacy issues making headlines globally, the policy could not have ignored the issue of data protection. Rightfully, the Secure India mission of the policy seeks to align the government’s focus with that of global trends.

Contrasting goals, new approach

While the policy lays out a clear future path for the digital communication sector, it has to deal with two goals which are contrasting in nature. On the one hand, the industry has to set its eye on new futuristic technologies, on the other it is also supposed to equally focus on more fundamental goals of providing basic services to unconnected people.

To achieve both the goals at a time when the industry is already facing many challenges is no mean feat. According to the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), the industry has already invested over Rs 9 trillion and it is now saddled with a debt of over Rs 4.5 trillion. The industry may need to invest more than Rs 2-3 trillion over the next couple of years to fully connect the country’s population. Could the sector afford to spend more on essential services while also setting sights on futuristic technology?

Clearly, a low-cost technology-driven approach is the need of the hour especially in spreading the network coverage in rural areas where ARPUs are low, and the population is spread over large areas compared to urban areas. The telecom players would do well to adopt low-cost technologies like cloud and virtualisation if they want to succeed commercially in unconnected areas.

Virtualisation is shifting the hardware-driven servers on a software platform thus reducing the cost of equipment, saving energy bills and at the same time making transition from one technology to another (2G, 3G, 4G to 5G) easier.

This technology has already been widely used across the world for spreading telecom services in a low-cost manner. Service providers such as Telefonica are using this approach to connect the unconnected. Indian service providers can also adopt this approach and reap rich dividends.

The success of the new digital communication policy now depends on how fast telecom players realise the enormity of the task at hand and quickly adopt the technology solutions available to achieve the policy vision.


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