Mayur Saraswat, Head of Digital, IT and Telecom Vertical, TeamLease Services Limited

The National Digital Communications Policy (NDCP), 2018, which aims to create at least 4 million jobs and attract $100 billion of investments into the industry by 2022, will substantially increase the sector’s contribution to 8 per cent of GDP from 6 per cent in 2017, besides backing the principles of net neutrality. According to the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), the goals set for 2022 are crucial policy initiatives, which will address the problem of access and take India to­wards a vibrant digital economy. The objective of this policy is to bring India on the list of top the 50 nations in information and communication technology (ICT) from its 134th rank in 2017, providing broadband access to all citizens, increasing GDP contribution and creating jobs.

At the current pace of digitisation and digitalisation, it is estimated that India’s digital economy has the potential to reach $1 trillion by 2025. It has been estimated that a 10 per cent increase in broadband penetration in a country could potentially lead to an increase of over 1 per cent in GDP. India is aiming to connect 600,000 villages by broadband through its flagship initiative, BharatNet. Effective execution will connect remote areas, which will necessarily reflect in job creation and opportunities for people to get formal jobs.

The policy aims to create a roadmap for the transition to Industry 4.0 by 2020. It further seeks to expand the IoT ecosystem to 5 billion connected devices. Accor­ding to IAMAI, this will result in efficiency improvement, economic benefits and reduced human workload. NDCP 2018 will create a lot of infrastructure and help the debt-ridden telecom network segment to come out of its weak financials.

About 600,000 villages will be connected, eventually leading to the creation of 4 million jobs and earning avenues. Job seekers in the rural sector and Tier II cities will be benefited the most. There will be new job sets with new skills that will be created in new geographies. These new sets of jobs will be in the areas of 5G, LTE, artificial intelligence and big data, and skilled manpower will be in major dema­nd. Vocational courses and certification will help candidates keep themselves relevant. Employers will also encourage upskilling of their employees. The government and the sector skill council should come up with such programmes in consultation with the industry. In addition, skills in design system architecture, hardware design, system development, feature development, network deve­lop­ment and management, and service delivery will be in demand. In fact, vocational courses will help job seekers to upskill themselves and become productive.

Furthermore, connectivity to rural areas will generate many indirect job op­portunities. A paperless, presence-less and cashless business environment will boo­st this momentum. Villages and far-flung areas will start contributing to the real GDP. If the Telecom Sector Skill Coun­cil and corporates, along with policymakers, form an implementation road­map, it will lead to a greater amount of reach and maximum job creation.

However, the only point to consider here is how well the execution is done and at what pace NDCP 2018 is implemented. Execution is the key.

The industry has been experiencing tough times and severe margin pressures for many years, and recent quarterly results show a further downward trend. In the past few years, five operators have shut shop. Two of the three big players are facing tough times. The overall debt burden of the remaining players has burgeoned to alarming levels due to expensive spectrum auctions and heavy reduction in cash flows. Telecom consumers are no better today than they were two decades ago, when it comes to quality of service. Call drops, unwanted telemarketing calls, patchy data networks and unfair practices to get users to pay more are rampant. To make matters worse, consumers do not have access to a reliable and neutral complaint redressal mechanism.

NDCP 2018 is a roadmap explaining how solutions to these issues will be executed. For instance, on the issue of reducing the financial burden on telecom operators, the policy states that the plan is to rationalise government taxes and levies. Apart from giving critical infrastructure status to the industry, the government is planning to auction spectrum in new 5G bands (3300 MHz-3600 MHz) for the first time. At Rs 4.92 billion per MHz, operators will have to shell out Rs 98.4 billion for a pan-Indian minimum block of 20 MHz, which, telecom companies say, is steep.

While there are a lot of benefits aligned to NDCP 2018, only the right execution of the policy will help the burdened sector to rise like a phoenix.