With this issue, we celebrate our 19th anniversary. In these 19 years, the Indian telecom sector has changed dramatically, from being a small fixed line market to the world’s second-largest mobile market, led by wireless devices of various types.
And the transformation has not stopped here. The “wireless boom” has become a thing of the past and India is now witnessing a “digital revolution”. Digital connectivity, powered by the convergence of telecom, media and technology, has changed the narrative of how people shop, eat, exercise, play, work and travel.
This emerging content and app ecosystem is leading to an unprecedented growth in data consumption. Mobile internet connections grew from 346 million in late 2016 to 491 million this year. The consumption per user has also reached 3.2 GB per user per month.
Against this backdrop, the biggest policy development of 2018 has been the release of the National Digital Communications Policy (NDCP), 2018, which unveils the roadmap for India’s digital future. The policy is holistic, progressive and forward looking, as it rightly considers the various elements needed for developing the country’s digital infrastructure.
That said, while NDCP 2018 has pushed the pedal on digital, it has failed to address the sector’s biggest challenge – its financial health. During the past two years, there has been a significant slowdown in operators’ revenue growth, as the sector is beset with several structural challenges.
However, industry experts are hopeful that with the sector achieving the “right structure”, 2019 may become a turnaround year for operators and they may start reaping the benefits of growing data consumption in terms of increased ARPUs.
For a sector still in distress, it will be interesting to see how operators are able to mainstream 4G services, how they will prepare for 5G and what will be their spectrum strategy. Industry reports state that Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea have already used carrier aggregation while Airtel is exploring Massive MIMO for optimum utilisation of available resources. Reliance Jio, meanwhile, claims that it already has a 5G-ready LTE network and is awaiting the spectrum auction to launch these services.
Fast forwarding to 2022, certain studies estimate that there will be five new mobile connections per second. Nearly 50 per cent of households are likely to be connected through fixed broadband. The future is gigabit speed and 5G will power new waves of transformation. Connectivity will move beyond people to connect billions of devices, vehicles, household appliances and machines. It will become a world led by internet of things, autonomous vehicles and machine-to-machine communication, all enabled by the telecom network.
Clearly, as the telecom sector’s transformation curve is shifting, the story is becoming more exciting.