Aalok Kumar, President and Chief
Executive Officer,
NEC Corporation India

Despite the Covid pandemic, 2020 turned out to be a good year for the Indian telecom network and technology vendors. Automation, softwarisation and virtualisation emerged as key trends while telcos took steps to make their networks future ready. Network upgradation, especially in anticipation of 5G, will continue to be a key theme in 2021 as well. Aalok Kumar, President and Chief Executive Officer, NEC Corporation India, shares his views on the performance of the sector in 2020, the key growth drivers, opportunities in the evolving 5G landscape and the future outlook…

How has the Indian telecom technology landscape evolved in 2020? What were some of the key business highlights for your company?

The IT and telecom sector rescued millions of people and businesses as they moved online. During the lockdown period, telecom was synonymous with “mobility” for a mobile-first country like ours. Since telecom is the backbone of any digital activity, it would not be wrong to say that the sector kept the economy afloat throughout 2020.

At NEC, we have several partnerships and projects globally, and India is a high-priority market for our telecom business. We are the first player globally to go live with a 5G open RAN network. We have set up a new Open RAN laboratory in Chennai as part of our “In India, for India and from India for global” strategy and actively contribute to the bustling 5G opportunity. This new facility will complement the operations of NEC’s Centre of Excellence in the UK. Despite Covid-19, we completed the first-ever 2,312 km undersea optical fibre cable project for island connectivity in the Andaman & Nicobar islands.

What were the key technology trends that emerged amidst the Covid-19 pandemic? Which of these will continue to shape the post-Covid world?

The use of emerging technology solutions, including artificial intelligence (AI) and ML, is rapidly transforming the world, leading to safer and smarter societies. Some of the technology trends that we foresee for 2021 are:

  • A digital-first approach: The increasing number of businesses will invest heavily in digital technologies and attain a higher value by combining digital sustainability goals and driving customer satisfaction.
  • A shift towards autonomous IT operations: Most of the IT and digitalisation initiatives will move towards a cloud ecosystem and become the underlying framework that extends resource controls and real-time analytics capabilities.
  • Increased adoption of cybersecurity solutions: As networks extend to homes, their vulnerabilities will increase consequently. With work-from-home becoming a part of the employee lifecycle, organisations will invest in cybersecurity solutions.

What are your views on India’s readiness to roll out 5G services? How are you engaging with your partners on this front or contributing to the overall ecosystem?

India is quite a different and unique market for telecom solutions as compared to the Western world. Each location is different in terms of demand density and infrastructural capabilities, and it is even more complicated when it comes to addressing latency challenges and uniform deployment. Hence, multilevel trials are necessary.

We work closely with operators to understand their existing infrastructure and operational orchestration capacity and provide the most viable and profitable strategy to reap the benefits of a disruptive technology like 5G. We are working together to educate operators on the technology and its advantages and continue to devise models to reach a win-win partnership. We are proud that NEC is the first company globally that has created an open RAN 5G network.

What are your views on the government’s Atmanirbhar Bharat mission? How are you contributing to this mission? Do you have a policy/regulatory wish list on this front?

The Atmanirbhar Bharat campaign has given an opportunity to India to relook at its native manufacturing ecosystem and associated supply chain. It aims to leverage the digital-first approach across multiple sectors. With the government finalising the norms for the PLI scheme for telecom and networking equipment, we are looking forward to significant contributions to the Atmanirbhar Bharat Mission from a telecom industry perspective. This is a welcome move, which will definitely boost the Indian market, making it a global telecom gear manufacturing hub. This, in turn, will accelerate the 5G transition. The very recent National Security Directive has also supplemented the self-reliance mission and will reduce dependency on foreign entities while addressing the supply chain concerns.

From a wish list perspective, we hope that the government will make 5G mainstream to harness the power of digital. Phasing into commercial trials and deployment is something that we look forward to.

Going forward, how do you see Indian telecom networks transform to become future ready? What will be the key opportunities and challenges?

We believe that telecom will become the core enabler and catalyst of the Indian landscape. Digital connectedness, demand for high data-dependent digital services and tech-savvy users will require high speed and network capacity. With 5G coming in, every industry will witness a massive transformation, wherein high capacity connectivity will open up innovative revenue streams for industry verticals. India’s demographic dividend, digital-savvy demographics, development of smart cities and robust infrastructure, start-up ecosystem and efforts to achieve digital inclusiveness, all work in favour as we move ahead in the new normal. Furthermore, the government’s initiatives, including Digital India, Make in India and Self-Reliant India, contribute to the boom expected across sectors.