With this issue, we celebrate our twenty-second anniversary.

As in previous years, we have produced a special anniversary issue for you, complete with sector reviews, segment analyses and industry perspective. And as in previous anniversary issues, we are using this space for our very brief take on the sector.

We will hopefully remember 2021 as the year when things finally started to move in the right direction for the Indian telecom sector, after years of moving in the wrong direction.

Some sanity and some equity were restored, both in terms of government policy and corporate decisions. The government finally showed some mercy on the sector, offering a package of “relief” measures, which included both a reduction in future AGR levies and a moratorium on old dues. The operators, those that remain, finally seemed to have ended their price wars. And, in fact, began raising tariffs.

Not that the damage wrought over the years has been completely undone. Far from it. There is a real danger of an effective duopoly emerging. There is still far too much debt. The taxes are still too high. The ARPUs are still too low. If one of the operators did not have deep pockets and another one did not have deep-pocketed investors, the sector wo­u­­ld have been in deep trouble. (Of course, one can also argue that but for these deep pockets, there would have been no war and no wounded.)

So, a lot more needs to be done, to restore the financial health of the sector.

A good place to begin would be reducing the GST. The government claims that the telecom sector provides an “essential” service. Yet, it continues to treat telecom service as a “luxury” when it comes to GST levels or spectrum reserve prices. (The essential nature of the telecom sector was proven over the last two years of the pandemic, when, along with the electricity sector, it ensured that the economy continued to function.)

It is also time that the USO funds collected over the years are actually utilised more fully. The cause is worthy but if the government is unable to spend what it collects, maybe the levy can be done away with or reduced.

A successful countrywide roll-out of 5G is needed not just for the telecom sector but for the continuing digital transformation of the Indian economy. The government needs to make sure not only that the reserve price is not too high but also that there are roll-out obligations so that the services are not confined to urban conclaves.

A more complicated task would be ensuring that there is competition and we do not end up with an effective duopoly (or worse). This is a task for both regulators and policymakers. On the one hand, to help the survival of Vi or the revival of BSNL. On the other, to encourage the entry of new players. Or a combination thereof.

So let us hope that 2022 picks up from where 2021 left off.

P.S.: We also take this opportunity to thank our readers, contributors and advertisers. We would not have made it this far without their support, which we hope will continue.