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Interview with Aruna Sundararajan, Secretary, DoT

September 28, 2017
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tele.net interacted with Aruna Sundararajan, Secretary, Department of Telecommunications (DoT), on the sidelines of India Mobile Congress, 2017. She highlighted government’s commitment to extend mobile and internet connectivity to every Indian. She also shared that the work on new NTP’s draft is in progress and the industry can expect the final policy announcement by first quarter of 2018. Excerpts…

What are the key focus areas of the new national telecom policy (NTP) and when is the policy likely to be released?

As for the roadmap for the new policy, we are aiming to get the first working draft ready by end-2017. This will be shared with the public and other key industry stakeholders. Thereafter, we expect to announce the policy by the first quarter of 2018.

The focus areas of the policy will be:

• How do we get both mobile and internet connectivity to every Indian?

• How do we ensure we have good Quality of Service?

• How do we ensure we have next generation networks ready for deploying new technologies such as 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR) and others

Broadly, we are looking at how to have a sustainable and financially healthy telecom industry in the county.

How prepared is the Indian market for 5G technology?

Currently, all operators and industry leaders are making concerted efforts to ensure India is 5G ready. Also, the government has recently put together a high level forum which includes key people from international academics domain, IITs, and Indian Institute of Science, and manufacturers, standards bodies among many others. All of us will be working together to ensure India is ready for 5G.

What is the government’s stance on conducting the next round of spectrum auctions?

We will have to wait for the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAIs) recommendations for the next round of spectrum auctions. TRAI is currently looking at it and we will take a call once we hear from the regulator.

What has been the impact of the rollout of the new right-of-way rules on the telecom infrastructure in the country?

India needs a huge amount of fibre and the current amount of fibre is nowhere close to enough. The new rules will make a big difference because for the first time local bodies, etc. have been asked to proactively give right-of-way, and ask for reasonable charges. So, in the coming months and years we do expect that this new policy will kick-start the layout of adequate fibre in the country.

What are you views on the current financial distress in the telecom sector? What policy interventions can we expect in this regard?

There is already an inter-ministerial group (IMG) which is looking at this issue. The report of the IMG will be presented before the Telecom Commission soon. We are also trying to identify and address the bottlenecks and issues in the new policy.

The union cabinet has recently approved a revised implementation strategy for BhartNet. Are there any challenges that still remain unaddressed?

BharatNet has now picked up huge momentum. We have seen a seven-fold acceleration in project implementation. The electronics and the fibre are in place and we expect 70,000 gram panchayats to be service ready. 50,000 gram panchayats are already service ready and by December, 2017 100,000 gram panchayats will be delivering broadband.

How do you see the industry’s competitive landscape evolve over the year? Will there be only 3+1 operators going forward?

Consolidation will happen but whether there will be three players or four players cannot be commented on at this stage because the nature of the industry is itself evolving. Telecom operators are morphing into much more than utilities and are providing a range of services. Platforms are also partnering with telecom operators. It is difficult to comment on what exactly will it look like but certainly we will not have a situation with 12-13 players in the sector.

What policy moves can the industry expect over the next year?

India will have a brand new telecom policy (NTP). The NTP will focus on ease of doing business, Make in India, Quality of Service, next generation networks and cyber-security. We can look forward to a framework that will enable the next wave of growth.


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