The sixth edition of the India Mobile Congress concluded successfully, marking the historic launch of 5G services in India. The event, themed New Digital Universe, saw discussions and deliberations among industry leaders on the future of 5G networks and other new-age technologies. The event was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In his inaugural address, the prime minister spoke about the progress of the Digital India initiative, the rising affordability of the internet and mobile devices, and the future of 5G. Edited excerpts from his address…
Today, 1.3 billion Indians are getting a wonderful gift in the form of 5G. With 5G, India has created new history. The country is setting global telecom technology standards for the first time. We should use this technology to give unprecedented speed to India’s growth.
Digital India is not just a government scheme; it is a big vision for the development of the country. The goal of this vision is to bring technology to the common people, which works for the people and by connecting with the people. Digital India has given a platform to small traders, small entrepreneurs, local artists and artisans.
When the strategy was being chalked out for the Digital India vision with respect to the mobile sector, I reiterated that our approach should not be piecemeal, but holistic. For the success of Digital India, it was necessary to cover all the dimensions of this sector at once. So, we focused on the four pillars and four directions at once. First, the cost of devices; second, digital connectivity; third, the cost of data; and fourth and most importantly, the idea of “digital first”.
Boost to Make in India
When it comes to the first pillar, it is clear that the cost of a device can decrease only when we are self-reliant. At the time of 2G, 3G and 4G, India was dependent on other countries for technology. But with 5G, India has created new history and is setting a global standard in telecom technology for the first time. New India will not remain a mere consumer of technology but will play an active role in developing and implementing that technology. India will play a crucial role in designing the wireless technology of the future as well as in the manufacturing related to it.
Moreover, till 2014, we used to import almost 100 per cent of mobile phones from abroad. In 2014, there were only two mobile manufacturing units in the country. But today, the number has gone up to 200. We increased mobile manufacturing units. We gave incentives for increasing the production of mobile phones in India and encouraged the private sector. The production-linked incentive scheme is an extension of this initiative. The results of these efforts were very positive. Today, India ranks second in the world in mobile phone production and has become a mobile phone exporting country. Naturally, all these efforts have had an impact on the cost of the device. Now we have started getting more features in smartphones at lower costs.
Internet for all
The second pillar we worked on is digital connectivity. The real strength of the communication sector lies in connectivity. The more the people connect, the better for the sector. In 2014, India had 60 million wired and wireless broadband users. Today, that number has surpassed 800 million. With regard to the number of internet connections, there were 250 million internet connections in 2014, but today its number is reaching about 850 million. It is also worth noting that today the number of internet users in the country’s rural areas is increasing faster as compared to cities. This is because 170,000 panchayats are connected by optical fibre today, up from less than 100 in 2014.
Just like the government started a campaign to deliver electricity to every household, worked on the mission of providing clean water to everyone through the Har Ghar Jal Abhiyan, and attempted to deliver gas cylinders to the poorest of the poor through the Ujjwala scheme, it is now working on the goal of internet for all.
Lower cost of data
With the expansion of digital connectivity, the cost of data becomes equally important. This was the third pillar of Digital India, on which we worked with full force. The cost of data in India is among the lowest in the world. It has come down from Rs 300 per GB to about Rs 10 per GB. The government has focused on how to increase the convenience and ease of living for the people of the country. In India, an average mobile user consumes 14 GB of data per month. In 2014, the cost of this 14 GB of data was around Rs 4,200 per month. The cost of the same amount of data is around Rs 125 to Rs 150 today. This means an average user is saving around Rs 4,000 per month.
Further, we have removed all the hurdles coming in the way of the telecom sector. Earlier, the telecom sector had to face many difficulties due to lack of vision and transparency. The government gave policy support for the expansion of 4G technology. This led to a drastic reduction in the cost of data and the birth of a data revolution in the country. Seeing these three factors – the cost of the device, the cost of digital connectivity and the cost of data – its multiplier effect has started appearing everywhere.
Besides the three pillars of digital connectivity, the idea of “digital first” has developed in the country. Today, technology has become truly democratic. The poorest of the poor Indians are ahead in terms of adopting new technologies. The government itself went ahead and made digital payments easier. The government promoted citizen-centric service delivery through apps. Whether it is farmers or small shopkeepers, we have given them a way to meet their daily needs through the apps. Today, even a small street vendor in a local market or vegetable market will tell you not to transact in cash but through the Unified Payment Interface. This shows that when a facility is available, the thinking also gets emboldened. This is the key difference in the intentions of 2G and 5G.
Also, our approach of “digital first” has helped the people of the country during the Covid-19 pandemic when the major developed countries of the world were struggling to help their citizens. India was transferring billions of rupees to the accounts of the citizens with a single click. It was due to the power of Digital India that even when the world had come to a halt, our children were taking online classes and studying. Hospitals were faced with an extraordinary challenge, but doctors were treating their patients through telemedicine. Offices were closed, but work-from-home was going on.
Future of 5G
5G is the beginning of an infinite sky of opportunities. 5G technology will not be limited to speedy internet access, but it has the capability to change lives. 5G should be used to bring about a revolution in the country. It is an opportunity for our youth, who, with the help of 5G technology, can make innovations that grab the attention of the world. This is an opportunity for our entrepreneurs who can expand and grow themselves using 5G technology, and for the common man of India to use this technology to improve his skills, upskill, reskill, and convert his ideas into reality.
India may not have benefited from the first three industrial revolutions, but I am confident that the country will take full benefit of the fourth industrial revolution and, in fact, will lead it. I urge the leaders of the telecom industry to visit the schools and colleges of the country and unleash every aspect of this new technology, as well as create an enabling ecosystem for micro, small and medium enterprises to prepare spare parts for electronic manufacturing. We will see the promises of 5G realised in our lifetimes. The India of the future will guide the world in the upcoming technology sector, in turn making it a global leader. It is not just India’s decade – this entire century belongs to India.