Lt Gen. Dr S.P. Kochhar, Director General, COAI

With over 1.17 billion subscribers, the Indian telecom industry ranks second internationally and is the world’s largest data consumer. The expectations from the sector have grown as a result of the daily introduction of new technologies. The trend of data dependence has be­come more pronounced now with the mu­ch-anticipated launch of 5G services. The sector has been collaborating closely with the government and other stakeholders to keep up with these technical impro­vements. During the past year, there have been several encouraging developments.

The Indian Telegraph Right of Way (Am­endment) Rules, 2022, and the Wire­less Licensing Reforms of 2022 have made in­frastructure deployment across the na­tion simpler and quicker. We warmly ap­plaud the reduction of the processing ch­ar­ge and the accelerated SACFA certificate approval procedure. The Right of Way (RoW) Amendment Rules address problems brought on by a dearth of street furniture for deployment and limitations on placing towers or small cells adjacent to hospitals, airports, schools and other facilities. Another major plus of the rules is the newly decreased rates for the installation of tiny cells on poles and aerial optical fibre cable (OFC).

Business is made easier because of the government’s focus on digitising processes on a number of fronts. For instance, the in­troduction of the 5G RoW application form by the Gati Shakti Sanchar portal cr­eated an institutional framework for collaboration between all parties, including the central and state/union territory gove­rnments, to make it easier to submit RoW applications and obtain permissions for the installation of digital infrastructure, which includes mobile towers and OFC. In order to speed up the deployment of equipment across the nation, self-declaration clearance has replaced the previous scrutiny-based clearance process and shifted the import licence application pro­cess online. The process of getting the De­­p­art­ment of Telecommunications’ te­ch­­nical ap­p­roval for telecom towers has be­en str­eamlined in a similar way. The di­gi­ti­sation of records and the automatic re­newal of licences have significantly dec­re­ased the time required to provide services. Throu­gh the Saral Sanchar portal, the en­tire licensing procedure has been made online, reducing the processing time to just two months on average.

In order to replace the outdated directives, futuristic and forward-looking policy and regulatory procedures must be developed in today’s era of digital convergence. The draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022 is a suitable step in this direction be­cause it aims to modernise and combine the existing laws governing the allocation of spectrum as well as the provision, development, extension, and operation of tele­communication services, networks and infrastructure. The law will be more effective thanks to the bill’s requirements for effective spectrum usage, a licence framework, dispute resolution, and graded pe­nalties. The draft bill also places focus on reforms relating to the use of spectrum, such as refarming, harmonisation, sharing, trading, leasing, technology-agnostic use, giving back unneeded spectrum to the government and surrender of spectrum.

With crucial clauses on know your customer (KYC), protection against unsolicited messages, duty of the user to provide correct KYC, etc., the draft bill places a high focus on the “protection of users”. Th­is will aid in preventing problems with user security, fraud, and unwanted telema­rketing calls and messages.

It is most fairly and practicably propo­sed that over-the-top (OTT) communication platforms, which provide telecom services like voice/video calls and messaging to the same clients directly, be included in the Telecom Act. OTT communication service providers are not subject to any ki­nd of regulation, which significantly un­dermines the market’s fairness. More­over, being outside the licensing regime, OTT communication providers do not have any obligation towards security requirements, which poses a great risk to national security. Given the alarmingly high cases of fr­auds and scams on OTT platforms, focusing on safeguarding the security and privacy of users has become all the more im­portant, in view of consumer interest and well-being. OTT communication services must be incorporated into the draft telecom bill framework to bring in ac­co­untability, security, fair competition and a level playing field in the sector.

These forward-thinking actions taken by the sector are essential to revive the co­untry’s digital economy. The telcos are in­vesting heavily in 5G networks while fo­cusing on rural markets to offer these services all across the country.

Going forward, the adoption of 5G technology would spark a tremendous societal shift in India and enhance value creation. While a few industries like healthcare and education are anticipated to lead in 5G use, its adoption will also have a significant positive impact on other sectors like automotive, retail and logistics. Since public 5G will initially be applicable and used in a sm­all number of consumer segments such as high-tech gaming, augmented reality (AR)/ virtual reality (VR) apps, etc., enterprise business will be the main force behind its adoption and usage. Further, the en­ha­nced network connectivity of 5G will lead to an increase in the use of remote-controlled de­vi­ces in various industries, thereby im­pro­ving safety in potentially dangerous areas. Massive factory automation wo­uld increase output, effectiveness, and control. The development of intelligent gadgets and network edges made possible by 5G will spur worldwide innovation.

The growth of 5G has also sparked an urgent need for a variety of qualified wor­kers to meet the deployment and application needs of the technology. It is predicted to create a sizeable amount of direct and indirect job possibilities, opening the doors for individuals and companies with the ca­pa­city to fundamentally alter India’s econo­mic landscape. India is anticipated to re­quire 22 million skilled workers with 5G-related skills by the year 2025. It wo­uld be essential to have experts in fields like secure network architecture design, artificial intelligence and machine learning, big data analytics, programming, clo­ud computing, in­ternet of things, DevOps, automation and or­chestration, open source software, and electrical engineering fundamentals in or­der to compete internationally.

The rapid advancement in technology is also leading to increased demand for ski­lled cybersecurity professionals to safeguard the networks and applications of the future, especially with the growing threat of cybercrimes and frauds. Cybersecurity and resilience would be a crucial area for skill development in the coming year.

In 2023, we anticipate a growth in the implementation of 5G enterprise use cases. The areas of emphasis business-to-business use cases will include fixed wireless, healthcare industry, sensor-based systems, network edge, remote devices and AR, conn­ected cars, etc. Some of the use cases, in­cluding holographic communications, im­mersive VR advertising, VR classroom, sa­fety at construction sites (metro rail), smart agriculture, connected ambulances, and smart industrial manufacturing/factories, have already been demonstrated by telcos and original equipment manufacturers at the recent India Mobile Congress 2022. We anticipate that telecom service provi­ders will begin implementing the majority of these use cases in 2023. Addi­ti­onally, we expect to see an in­cr­ease in tech-telco agreements for the co­n­struction of private 5G networks. 5G services are expe­c­ted to play a significant role in India ac­hie­ving its economic goal of be­co­ming a $5 trillion economy by 2024-25.

As an industry, we look forward to providing our support and efforts towards mi­nimising the digital divide and helping In­dia become a $1 trillion digital economy by 2025, as we march towards achieving the nation’s “Digital India” vision.