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

The telecom sector has witnessed an enormous disruption, powered by technological advancements, in the past one year. New-age technologies such as 5G, internet of things (IoT), augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) are set to become a part of our everyday life.

Shift towards digital ecosystem

The onset of the pandemic has led to an abrupt shift towards a digital ecosystem across the world. This shift has resulted in mass understanding of the digital world. The advancements in technology have trickled down through the telecom ecosystem. Today, we are speaking of a digital revolution backed by 5G technology that can completely change the way we live, play and work. Once 5G becomes a reality, the sector will grow exponentially with the integration of new-age technologies that will catalyse digital adoption and lead to major growth across different sectors and industries.

Telecom – An enabler during the pandemic

The telecom sector has emerged as an “essential” service sector during the pandemic. While the world was reeling under the effects of the pandemic, the telecom sector became the rescuer, the “enabler”. The dependency on mobile devices increased dramatically with the sudden shift and dependence on the digital ecosystem. As work-from-home became a reality, enhanced connectivity and smart services became essential for the sustenance of humankind. It became critical to have an advanced online infrastructure.

Policy support

The Covid-19 pandemic brought in incredible policy support from the government in the form of the a production-linked incentive  scheme to catalyse the progress of the telecom sector and make India a global telecommunications hub. The government allocated Rs 142 billion for telecom infrastructure in the Union Budget 2021-22. The sector also made significant investments towards building a robust and reliable communications infrastructure.

Further, the pandemic brought to the fore the pivotal role of the telecom sector for the Indian economy. The progress of the telecom sector is the path to realising the dream of Digital India. The future of the telecom sector in the post-Covid era is bright. The digital revolution that will be powered by 5G technology will enhance the Indian economy and make the country a global digital powerhouse.

Key challenges

The industry is under immense financial stress. It is important to understand that relief, to bolster the financial health of the sector, is the need of the hour. The industry needs robust investment in reliable communications infrastructure to meet the rising demand for connectivity. Only 33 per cent of our towers are fiberised. Even though rural teledensity has grown immensely, there is still a leering presence of a digital divide between rural and urban India. There is also a delay in the execution of right-of-way rules. States/Union territories are not giving timely approval to telecom service providers (TSPs) for the installation of underground fibre cables that are critical for facilitating seamless network connectivity across India. Hence, collaborative efforts from the centre, state, local bodies and TSPs are needed for the deployment of optical fibre cable, expansion of network reach, etc. Last but not least, there is a lot of misinformation around health concerns posed by cellular towers. These myths about electromagnetic field radiations obstruct the installation of towers and delay the timely roll-out of network infrastructure.

Future outlook

We are on the cusp of a digital revolution. In the coming years, the 5G dream will become a reality. 5G will be a game changer for the telecom industry. It will disrupt the industry and enable a digital revolution through the integration of 5G with emerging technologies such as IoT, AR, VR, robotics and big data analytics. In fact, 5G will be paramount in pushing the adoption rates of these new technologies. As per available industry statistics, IoT in India will proliferate to touch 2 billion connections and yield revenues worth $11.1 billion over the next two years. In the future, the telecom sector will become the spine, the enabler and the catalyst for triggering exponential growth in other sectors.