According to the Economic Survey of India 2022-23, a landmark achievement in telecommunications in India was the launch of 5G services. Telecom reforms and clear policy direction led to the spectrum auction of 2022 garnering the highest-ever bids. As a major reform measure, the Indian Telegraph Right of Way (Amendment) Rules, 2022, will facilitate faster and easier deployment of telegraph infrastructure to enable speedy 5G rollout. The government has brought in procedural reforms in wireless licensing, including delicensing of various frequency bands to promote innovation, manufacturing and export. The National Frequency Allocation Plan 2022 (NFAP) will give guidance to the users of the spectrum to plan their networks in accordance with the relevant frequency and parameters provided therein.
The survey notes that Digital India has added more internet subscribers in rural areas in the last three years (2019-21) than in their urban counterparts (95.76 million vis-a-vis 92.81 million in rural and urban areas respectively). This has been a result of dedicated digital drives across rural areas through ambitious government schemes, such as the flagship BharatNet Project Scheme, Telecom Development Plan, Aspirational District Scheme, initiatives in north-eastern region through Comprehensive Telecom Development Plan (CTDP) and initiatives towards areas affected by left wing extremism etc.
Further, as per the survey, significant growth in internet subscribers in rural India was the major shock absorber during the Covid-19 pandemic when both businesses and consumer demand were impacted. Digital infrastructure created over the years ensured not just the continuous transmission of information but also added economic value when businesses went digital. The 200 per cent increase in rural internet subscriptions between 2015 and 2021 vis-a-vis 158 per cent in urban areas, reflects the increased impetus the government is putting to bring rural and urban digital connectivity to the same level.
To further widen the net, to include unconnected areas and populations, dedicated long-term efforts by the government have been taken. Government schemes such as production linked incentive (PLI) for telecom and networking products will promote domestic mobile manufacturing as well as network installation. Continuous proliferation of measures such as the BharatNet Project shall continue to improve accessibility, affordability, connectivity, and inclusivity pan-India.
The Economic Survey states that to further create digital linkages at the grassroots level and increase the consumer experience other initiatives include approval of a project for the saturation of 4G mobile services in uncovered villages across the country. Apart from this, with a special focus on the states in the North-Eastern Region, the government is implementing a Comprehensive Telecom Development Plan (CTDP). A comprehensive initiative to connect islands to the mainland has also been realised through the government’s initiative of CTDP for Islands.
With regard to digital public infrastructure, the three growth drivers that acted as catalysts for growth were favourable demographics, vast expansion of the middle class, and digital behaviour patterns. By leveraging these growth drivers, India has built a competitive digital economy that empowers every individual and business to transact paperless and cashless. Various schemes and applications launched by the government such as ‘MyScheme’ and Unified Mobile Application for New-Age Governance (UMANG), ‘Bhashini’ and others enable citizens to access e-Government services offered by the central and state government in various sectors. Through platforms such as OpenForge, the use of open-source software and sharing and reuse of e-governance-related source code is promoted. While Aadhaar was a medium for service delivery at the doorstep, UPI strengthened the digital payment infrastructure.
For the electronics industry, the survey emphasised that electronic goods were among the top five commodity groups exhibiting positive export growth in November 2022, with the exports in this segment growing year-on-year (YoY) by 55.1 per cent. The industry was valued at $118 billion as of FY20. India aims to reach $300 billion worth of electronics manufacturing and $120 billion in exports by FY26. The major drivers of industry growth were mobile phones, consumer electronics and industrial electronics. India has become the second-largest mobile phone manufacturer globally, with the production of handsets going up from 60 million units in FY15 to 310 million units in FY22. The survey states that various initiatives and incentives of the government including PLI scheme for large-scale electronics manufacturing, the PLI scheme for IT hardware, and the Scheme for Promotion of Manufacturing of Electronic Components and Semiconductors (SPECS) have nurtured and enhanced the electronics manufacturing base. Additionally, under the Programme for Development of Semiconductors and Display Manufacturing Ecosystem in India, the Union Cabinet approved the comprehensive development of a sustainable semiconductor and display ecosystem in the country with an outlay of Rs 760 billion.
Among services exports, software exports have remained relatively resilient during the Covid-19 pandemic as well as amid current geopolitical uncertainties, driven by higher demand for digital support, cloud services, and infrastructure modernisation catering to new challenges.