The rapid uptake of 4G services in the past few years shows that the Indian population has a huge appetite for data. To further cater to the customers’ need to constantly stay connected, the telecom industry is exploring new technologies like 5G and public Wi-Fi to establish ubiquitous connectivity in the country. These technologies and services will unlock significant business and employment opportunities. The development of a connected ecosystem would require stakeholders to focus on developing scalable and adaptable infrastructure, delivering services in regional languages and promoting the development of ingenous solutions.

While the government has formulated many schemes for sector growth, there are a few things that must be taken into consideration. First, the infrastructure stack needs to be robust. Second, there should be clarity in terms of whether the data generated belongs to the service provider or to the country where it is generated. Third, a data analytics mechanism should be established to monetise the huge amount of data collected.

There is immense opportunity in 5G. The country’s engineers will be needed to develop 5G test beds. Smart cities also present significant opportunities. Further, there is a need to digitally enable small businesses that contribute to the country’s economic growth. Going forward, putting innovation at the top of every problem-solving exercise and promoting the meaningful use of technology would help India in attaining ubiquitous connectivity.

Regulatory landscape in the digital world

The emergence of a new digital ecosystem calls for changes in legacy regulations, which are currently impeding the growth of the telecom sector. Since digital technologies evolve at a rapid pace, an efficient regulatory mechanism is needed to ensure business continuity and promote faster technology adoption. Further, closing the digital divide should be the top priority of sector regulators.

While the adoption of heavy regulations during the initial phases of sector growth is inevitable, it hampers the development of the market at a later stage. Tele­com regulators across the globe believe that a competitive market is the best model for driving innovation. They aim to formulate a regulatory regime that enhan­ces connectivity, protects the market and has minimum government interference. Regulatory intervention should be limited to problem areas.

That said, it is challenging to create a regulatory environment that can keep pace with the fast evolving technology landscape. Speaking on the issue, R.S. Sharma, chairman, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, said, “We are witnessing a transition from a physical world to a virtual/digital world, and the regulators must take cognisance of this reality. Since the current laws and regulations pertain mostly to a physical world, they are becoming obsolete in today’s digital scenario. However, regulators must not be too proactive in predicting changes that would occur in the market and must not create an environment that acts as a bottleneck for the adoption of new technologies.” Mean­while, Johannes Gun­gl, chair of the Body of European Regula­tors for Electronic Communica­tions, stated, “Regulators need to ensure the end application of the regulatory framework they design. They must aim to create a le­vel playing field for both traditional offline and online businesses.”

Currently, it has become essential for regulators across the globe and more so in India to strike a balance between customers’ quality of service expectations and the interests of the industry. In addition to safeguarding consumer interest, they need to ensure that incentives for investors are not eliminated. To this end, they need to conduct an impact analysis of the cost that the industry is bearing. There is an urgent need to create a level playing field between digital and traditional players. Further, with data security and privacy issues be­coming common to the sector, regulators need to establish a framework for data security and privacy. For the development of a favourable 5G ecosystem, sufficient spectrum availability is essential. Further, regulators need to provide opportunities in the next-generation satellite space.

Promoting innovation

In the rapidly advancing digital ecosystem, several innovative business models are being developed aimed at harnessing the power of technology to generate value for stakeholders. However, the sustainability of such models is dependent on a favourable regulatory environment. The fundamentals driving the pro-innovation regulations revolve around developing future technologies, analysing and addressing customer needs, promoting new business models and driving efficient data privacy laws.

Going forward, it is important that regulators identify and overcome the challenges in technology proliferation and adoption.