T.R. Dua, Director General, Digital Infrastructure Providers Association

For the Indian telecommunications industry, 2022 was a significant year, when services took another generational leap, with the launch of 5G in the country. The digital infrastructure industry stood up to the challenge and commenced the task of densification of networks. The roll-out of 5G networks began in October 2022 with a target of 200 cities and suburban regions by March 2023. As of January 1, 2023, there are approximately seven 43,000 telecom towers, roughly 2.42 million base transceiver stations (BTSs) and approximately eight 50,000 BTSs fiberised across India.

To roll out 5G in the country, small cells will be used to upgrade and expand the network, particularly in higher freq­uency bands with limited range and cannot pass through obstacles and will be used to manage traffic on the network. Using existing street furniture for small cells can avoid the need for new towers and lead to cost-effective and rapid deployment. The­se small cells will require backhaul connectivity, which can be established through aerial fibre deployment using street furniture. However, the deployment of small cells and aerial fibre on street furniture may be hindered by several issues, including identifying suitable street furniture, el­e­c­tricity board supply, scalability concerns, and local approval and safety issues.

India has approximately 3.5 million km of optical fibre cable and about 36 per cent of towers are fiberised. It is ne­cessary to explore and utilise the opportunities presented by next-generation networks such as 5G and other pioneering network access technologies such as 6G, WiFi7, satcom, etc. As per National Broadband Mission tar­gets, by the end of 2024, 70 per cent of to­wers will be fiberised. There is, hence, a big challenge to achieve, which will require the government to enhance the scope of infrastructure providers (IP-1s), permitting them to share active infrastructure.

The Government of India has played a pivotal role in ensuring a smooth 5G roll-out and a conducive environment for up­take with considerable investments, policies and reforms. Some of the government initiatives include:

  • The Indian government introduced a draft telecommunications bill in Sep­tem­ber 2022 that would replace existing telecommunications services, networks and infrastructure laws. The aim of the bill is to establish a comprehensive and updated system for regulating telecommunications in the country. It expands definitions of various terms, including “telecommunication service,” and introduces strict regulatory rules for both in­ternet service providers and users.
  • The Gati Shakti Sanchar portal was la­unched to accelerate approvals for fibre and tower installations and can be used by industry players to apply for 5G services. This portal envisages bringing tr­a­nsparency, accountability and responsiveness to all stakeholders while proce­ssing the application. It has further hel­p­ed in ease of doing business as the app­lication process for installation of di­gital infrastructure is being delayed due to inconsistency and uncertainty of policy and processes. It requires fast-tra­c­king of the application process to overcome the implementation challenges of the Right-of-Way (RoW) rules. This would provide a robust mechanism to achieve the “Broadband to All” goal as envisaged in the National Digital Communication Policy, 2018. The portal has been a game changer and brought down the average processing time of applications from more than 200 days to about nine days.
  • The government plans to set up 100 labs in India for 5G technology development and collaboration amongst the private sector, academia and the government.
  • The BharatNet project aims to provide broadband connectivity to approximately 260,000 gram panchayats and is being implemented in phases to connect every village through optical fibre by 2025.
  • The Department of Telecommunica­tio­ns (DoT) amended the RoW Rules and launched the Indian Telegraph RoW – Amendment Rules, 2022, to facilitate fas­ter 5G roll-out, clarify the term “str­e­et furniture”, and allow for bulk processing of applications.
  • The Ministry of Railways announced its revised RoW policy, which permitted private telecom companies to install to­w­ers on land owned by the ministry. It would also enable users travelling by tra­in to get a better experience. The railways’ 70 divisions will now also allow the installation of small cells and pole mo­unts in station premises and offices. The move to allow licensing of railway land to private entities for the installation of telecom towers shall bring down costs and boost efficiency and telecom connectivity.
  • The Telecom Regulatory Authority of In­dia (TRAI) has acknowledged the important role of telecom and suggested in a report, titled “Recommendations on Use of Street Furniture for Small Cell and Aerial Fibre Deployment” dated November 29, 2022, that telecom sites should be given access to electricity at industrial or utility tariffs.
  • TRAI released a consultation paper on telecommunication infrastructure sharing, spectrum sharing and spectrum lea­sing on January 13, 2023. DoT, through its letter dated February 10, 2022, stated that “in order to promote optimum re­source utilisation among the licensees, it is proposed to allow sharing of all kinds of telecom infrastructure and network elements among all categories of service providers”.

Key emerging trends

5G subscription in India is estimated to reach 500 million subscribers, with a pe­netration rate of approximately 40 per cent by 2027. Mobile data traffic in India will grow by a factor of four, from 2022 to 2027, and India will be amongst the highest mobile data consuming nations with a record 50 GB of monthly average data use per subscriber by 2027, outpacing the US, China and other developed countries. 5G technology will allow for the deployment of new and innovative technologies such as internet of things (IoT), which will allow for the interconnectedness of everyday devices and appliances, leading to a more efficient and smarter society.

Smart cities

Technologically developed cities will use various devices and sensors to collect information to efficiently manage assets, resources and services to improve operati­ons. 5G-connected equipment will use se­a­mless mobile network coverage, thus re­ducing the need for fixed wiring and work in sync with other portable devices such as drones and robots.


5G-enabled autonomous inspection dro­n­es will have communication capabilities to coordinate the collected information quickly and relay important images, such as scans of critical infrastructure and accident sites to the relevant authorities. Th­ey will be useful for border security, fo­rest and wild­life conservation, traffic mo­nitoring, cri­me control and illegal activity prevention, disaster management and crowd control.

Travel and transport

Secure, seamless and high performing cellular technology will create a host of innovations for smarter airports, railways, shipping ports, connected vehicles and smart logistics. 5G will allow operations to be smarter, more flexible and more secure to handle changes in technology, demography and economy. Automation and analytics will enable more efficient operations, while reducing operational costs.

Surveillance and traffic management

5G CCTV security cameras will run wireless audio and video signals on the 5G Wi-Fi band, leading to higher video analysis capabilities and processing using artificial intelligence (AI)/machine learning. AI-em­­­bedded cameras with sensors will en­su­re traffic monitoring, prevention of speeding and dangerous driving, while regulating vehicle flow within an area.

Automated factories

With the new network and built-in MEC (multi-access edge computing), manufacturers will be able to operate using automated guided vehicles, which can respond to obstacles in less than 10 milliseconds. Fu­rther, asset monitoring can be perfor­med with digital twins and sensors, en­ab­ling maximum efficiency.

Energy and utilities

5G networks will enable the deployment of smart grid technologies and IoT in the energy and utilities sector, allowing for mo­re efficient and sustainable energy ma­na­gement.


5G networks will enable precision farming, using drones, sensors and other IoT devices to optimise crop yields, reduce wa­ste and improve sustainability.


India has made significant progress in te­lecommunications with the roll-out of 5G networks. It is looking to participate in developing global 6G standards by forming the 6G Technology Innovation Group. The future growth of the telecom industry in India is expected to be driven by ad­van­ces in 5G and 6G, which have the potential to improve communication and connectivity, increase efficiency and drive economic growth. However, challenges such as expanding optical fibre coverage and improving cybersecurity policies must be addressed. With the right approach, the Indian digital infrastructure industry has the potential to establish strong recognition in the global market and play a key role in realising the vision of Digital India. Digital infrastructure development is crucial for the digital economy and should co­nsider factors such as digital availability, acc­ess, appetite and abilities.