Jeanette Whyte, Head of Public Policy APAC, GSMA

India is one of the largest and fastest growing digital economies in the wo­rld, with more than half a billion internet subscribers. The Indian government laun­ch­ed the Digital India programme in 2015 to transform the country into a digital society and economy. The Covid-19 pandemic underscored the critical role of connectivity, leading to a renewed focus of policymakers and en­cou­raging them to accelerate 5G roll-out and take supportive measures.

As per GSMA Intelligence analysis, the Indian economy could see a benefit of Rs 36.4 trillion ($455 billion) from 5G technology between 2023 and 2040, or more than 0.6 per cent of the GDP forecast for 2040. There are a large number of 5G use cases that could be implemented in the main sectors of the Indian economy. 5G benefits are expected to be realis­ed in key sectors like manufacturing (representing 20 per cent of the total benefit), retail, information and communication te­chnology, and agriculture. The services sector, particularly healthcare and education, is also expected to see benefits from 5G, driven by smart city and smart governance applications.

The number of 5G connections globally is estimated to reach 5 billion by the end of 2028. Most regions will have 50 per cent or more standalone 5G networks in the next few years. As per the GSMAi Di­gi­tal Societies Index, India is on a transitional path to becoming an advanced digital society based on its measure of connectivity, digital citizenship, digital identity, digital lifestyle and digital commerce.

The GSMA APAC Digital Societies Report 2022 focuses on the concept of “di­gital nations”, referring to the aspirations of governments across Asia Pacific to integrate digital technologies and services into every sector of the economy. This makes digitalisation the core element of nation building, and the means to achieving sustainable and inclusive economic gr­ow­th. The key components of a digital nation are infrastructure, innovation, data governance, security and people.

The Indian government has taken several initiatives, such as amending the Right of Way Policy, working towards a framework for small cell deployment on street furniture, and lowering the reserve price of spectrum in 5G auctions. To fully rea­li­se India’s potential as a telecom superpower, greater attention must be given to key areas such as spectrum policy and framework, infrastructure deployment, innovation and inclusion.

India needs to emerge as a global spectrum leader by designing a clear spectrum roadmap, ensuring the availability of adequate backhaul spectrum and assuming global leadership through decisions at the World Radiocommunication Conferences 2023 (WRC-23). The 6 GHz range is a core component of the spectrum that is ne­­e­­ded to guarantee the future quality and affordability of 5G. WRC-23’s success, th­e­refore, will depend on its ability to secure the future of 5G through the identification of 6 GHz spectrum for Inter­national Mobile Telecommunica­tions. Increasing the capacity for mobile at WRC-23 will lead to the delivery of better services from less dense, less costly networks, thus redu­cing the usage gap while driving scale and further investment.

The uniform implementation of the Right of Way Rules, 2022, global harmonisation of its electromagnetic field stand­ards with the global International Co­m­mission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Pro­tection standards, and increased flexibility of passive and active infrastructure sharing would significantly contribute to infrastructure deployment.

5G is at the heart of the digital infrastructure component, with the potential to reshape the economy by enabling new op­erating models for businesses and transforming the way citizens interact with so­ciety and the environment around them. To maximise the opportunity, policymakers in India should take steps to develop, through collaboration, the components of a digital nation, incentivise innovation, and ensure the financial sustainability of the mobile industry.

India has made significant progress on its digital journey, particularly with the growth of mobile internet over the last decade. However, there is still a huge digital divide in the country, which excludes a large population from the digital economy and its social and economic benefits. The number of connected adults in India has grown, but a third of those with acc­ess to mobile broadband do not use the ser­vice. There is also a large gender gap in mobile ownership (14 per cent) and mobile internet usage (41 per cent), with a lack of awareness and digital skills being major barriers to mobile internet adoption among women. Addressing these ch­allenges should be a top priority for stakeholders to ensure that every citizen is able to participate in India’s growing digital economy.

India’s digital transformation journey has been remarkable. According to a rece­nt report by the Reserve Bank of India, India’s digital economy grew 2.4 times fas­ter than the Indian economy in 2022. In­dia’s G20 presidency, starting in Decem­ber 2022, presents a valuable opportunity for India to lead governments globally in in­corporating digitalisation into their nation-building efforts.