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Empowering India: Industry heads look to plug into the digital opportunity

November 29, 2018

India is witnessing a major digital revolution. The telecom industry, particularly the operator community, is driving this revolution. Data services and enabling next-generation technologies such as 4G and 5G are fundamental to achieving the government’s Digital India vision. The industry is looking to leverage opportunities offered by the country’s evolving digital landscape. That said, relevant government support, particularly in terms of rationalised taxes and levies, will be crucial for sector profitability. At the recently concluded India Mobile Congress 2018, key telecom leaders shared the stage to talk about evolving sector dynamics, new opportunities and the Digital India vision. Excerpts...

 

(From left to right- Mukesh Ambani, Chairman and Managing Director, Reliance Industries Limited; Kumar Mangalam Birla, Chairman, Vodafone Idea Limited; Sunil Bharti Mittal, Founder and Chairman, Bharti Enterprises)

Mukesh Ambani

Today, India is among the fastest growing economies of the world. This has happened due to a combination of force-multiplying factors. The most notable of these are good governance as well as the big contribution from Indian entrepreneurs, especially those in the telecom, IT and digital sectors. In less than two years, India has moved from 155th rank to being the number one in mobile data consumption in the world. This is the fastest transition by any country from 2G/3G to 4G in the world. By 2020, India will be a fully 4G country and ready for 5G.

What is extremely encouraging is that there is a silent revolution taking place in rural India. I am excited about the promise and the prospect of bringing a digital revolution to the country’s villages and rural enterprises. In the past eight months alone, as many as 50 million villagers have got affordable smartphones. Interestingly, for most of them, it is not only their first phone but also their first radio and music player, their first TV, and their first camera. They are using the internet for the first time in their lives and, that too, at affordable prices. This combination of connectivity and affordability is unparalleled in the world.

I would like to acknowledge the contribution of the government’s BharatNet programme in providing high quality connectivity in some of the remotest areas of the country. This transformation will accelerate as we get ready for a 5G world.

With JioGigaFiber, we have begun an ambitious push in the fixed broadband space through fibre to the home and premises. Jio is committed to building a deep-fibre network across the country. We are proud that India has become the world’s largest mobile data-consuming nation and we now have a similar opportunity to replicate this success in the fixed broadband space as well. I believe India will rise from a low rank of 135 to be amongst the top three nations in fixed broadband soon.

The future will be shaped by the fourth industrial revolution – a future founded on the robust pillars of connectivity, computing and data; a future powered by path-breaking digital technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, blockchain, internet of things (IoT), virtual reality and augmented reality; a future of exponential growth and immense opportunities. The telecom industry will play the role of a catalyst in this mission of propelling the country towards a bright digital future.

India will be among the largest digital markets in the world. We have to be mindful of the fact that data is the most important resource in this new world. And India and Indians will generate humongous amounts of data. Therefore, it is important that we utilise this rich resource for the benefit of India and Indians, while ensuring adequate safeguards.

Kumar Mangalam Birla

Indian telecom operators have been successful in delivering high quality voice services across the country. Under the Digital India vision, the country is now moving in tandem with the world in shaping the digital revolution, which is characterised by the infusion of technologies that are blurring the lines between the physical and the digital world.

The set of services that have been adopted so far are primarily those that are intended to deliver alternative forms of communication, networking and entertainment. But the real Digital India is about mobile broadband penetration across diverse socio-economic and demographic sections of consumers. This will enable services like healthcare, education, banking and governance to become seamlessly accessible to the masses, overcoming physical barriers.

I am convinced about the emerging role of wireless broadband in industrial applications, especially the introduction of IoT, AI and robotics, particularly in manufacturing set-ups. This will give a new impetus to the Make in India programme, both in terms of improved quality as well as enhanced productivity.

Undeniably, this digital revolution will be achieved on  the back of ubiquitously available high speed voice broadband infrastructure. The telecom industry is working at a brilliant speed to build one of the world’s largest mobile broadband infrastructures on the 4G platform.

With the objective of contributing to the government’s Digital India vision and meeting the increasing demand for data and its storage, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular joined hands to form Vodafone Idea Limited on August 21, 2018. The merger has been envisaged to create a strong entity that will participate in the next phase of the Indian telecom revolution by building world-class broadband infrastructure. Idea’s strength in rural areas and Vodafone’s strength in urban areas will complement each other in this regard. Further, refarming of the harmonised spectrum available with us can enable over 170 broadband channels, thereby allowing us to enhance our wireless data capabilities by three to five times. This consolidated network will significantly enhance the consumer experience and enable us to expand broadband and voice-over LTE coverage to over a billion Indians across 5,000 villages and towns.

All the operators are working towards the same task of building and consolidating infrastructure across the country and ensuring affordability of services for the masses.

The role of the government in creating an equitable and enabling framework is of paramount importance. I welcome the National Digital Communications Policy, 2018, given its objective to connect, propel and secure India. We now look forward to the speedy implementation and execution of the various initiatives outlined in the policy.

India has just begun its journey to become an empowered digital society. We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally transform our industries across sectors and also alter the way we live and relate to one another as humans. Mobile broadband services will be at the heart of this revolution.

We, at Vodafone Idea, are committed to making the vision of a Digital India a reality with continued support from the government and stakeholders.

Sunil Bharti Mittal

Today, we have over 450 million mobile broadband users and are adding millions of them almost on a weekly basis. There are five fundamental themes that I would like to highlight:

Consolidation

Global telecom markets are moving towards an industry structure of two to three operators per country. And, it is heartening to see that India too has arrived at a point where the telecom industry has one state operator and three private operators serving a population of over 1.2 billion people.

Clearly, this consolidation has not happened in an orderly fashion. Except for the Vodafone-Idea merger, most other operators had to go through a significant amount of pain and job losses. Nearly $50 billion has been written off. Finally, we have arrived at the right industry structure. Too many operators are not required, especially in a capex-heavy industry. The mobile industry is highly capital intensive and requires continuous investments in technology infrastructure.

Infrastructure

There are big projects such as BharatNet, under which hundreds of thousands of kilometres of fibre cable is being laid. Three private operators – Airtel, Jio, Vodafone-Idea – as well as the state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited, – have a lot of fibre infrastructure. We must make fibre a national asset so that it can be used by all industry players, be it telecom operators or other service providers. Collaboration and cooperation among the three operators to build a common infrastructure will be crucial in the future as we move towards 5G.

Levies and charges

Telecom is a heavily taxed industry. In India, for every Rs 100 that a mobile operator earns, nearly Rs 37 goes towards one form of levy or the other. It is difficult to comprehend the contradiction. On the one hand we are committed to digitally enabling India, which requires a tremendous amount of investment; on the other, spectrum prices and licence fees continue to be very high. The telecom sector continues to be taxed like the tobacco industry, and the issue of high levy needs to be resolved. It is encouraging to see that the National Digital Communications Policy, 2018 captures all these elements.

Focus on local production

India has been able to attract global telecom manufacturers and many handset players have set up manufacturing bases in the country. India needs to ensure that fundamental manufacturing shifts to the country. The country will see more chipset and component manufacturers setting up base here, which is something that normally follows once the local production of high quality products starts.

No international roaming

I am happy to inform that the switch-on rates for international roaming have improved from 45 per cent to nearly 65 per cent and would reach 75 per cent soon. India is taking a lead in this area. The Indian model of roaming is the most affordable in the world and we are seeing the adoption of these roam-free bundles by Indians travelling abroad.

 
 

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