The government has recently announced the formation of the Bharat 6G Alliance, a collaborative platform that brings together public and private companies, academia, research institutions, and standards development organisations. The alliance aims to build coalitions and foster synergies with other global alliances focused on 6G, promoting international collaboration and knowledge exchange. In his keynote address at the launch of the Bharat 6G Alliance, Ashwini Vaishnaw, Union Minister of Communications, Electronics and Information Technology and Railways, spoke about the transformation of the telecom sector and India’s growing prominence as a global technology and innovation hub. Edited excerpts from his address…
In the past nine years, the telecom sector has been completely transformed from a sector plagued by litigation, legacy issues and unhealthy discourses to a healthy, sunrise sector that focuses on innovation, investment and growth. A lot of factors have contributed to this. These include proactive governance and a clear vision of the government. All the legal and judicial challenges have been addressed, allowing us to think about the sector’s future growth. Many structural and procedural reforms have been implemented. What used to take months is now happening in a few seconds or a few days. This is a big change. Today, other countries are looking at India’s telecom sector as an example for developing their own telecom sector.
Achievements in the past nine years
- Between 2014 and 2023, data cost has decreased from Rs 300 per GB to Rs 10 per GB.
- Right-of-way (RoW) permissions used to take up to 230 days. This has come down to nine days on average.
- The total number of base transceiver stations (BTSs) was around 625,000, which has now increased to over 2.5 million, marking an almost four times expansion in coverage.
- The number of internet users in India has increased from 250 million to 850 million-900 million.
- Inward foreign direct investment was very limited earlier, but is now close to $24 billion.
“We should join hands and make sure that the momentum we have created is converted into products, patents and more technologies for 6G.”
Expanding 4G coverage
Our 4G footprint covers close to 99 per cent of the country. In addition, the government has approved about Rs 380 billion to ensure 100 per cent 4G footprint in the country. There has been a huge change in the way telecom services are rolled out. Earlier, there was a narrative that telecom services can never reach rural areas, but today 4G coverage has reached 99 per cent.
Progress in 5G
The 5G spectrum auction generated proceeds of Rs 1.5 trillion. The spectrum allocation process, which previously took several months, was completed in a record time frame of less than 24 hours in the latest auction. The telecom industry has invested approximately Rs 2.25 trillion in 5G network deployment. Around 270,000 towers have been established for 5G networks at a rate of almost one tower per minute. 5G is going live. Today, we are one of the top three 5G ecosystems globally. This is a huge achievement for the entire country.
Telecom manufacturing and the PLI scheme
Today, India is perceived as a telecom manufacturing hub. Previously, it was unimaginable for the country to become an exporter of technology because, all along, we have been consumers and importers of it. But now, we are manufacturers, designers and exporters of technology. We are exporting to about 12 countries, including the US.
I would also like to mention the success of our telecom manufacturing production-linked incentive (PLI) scheme. Close to Rs 16 billion has already been invested in telecom manufacturing. The 42 companies that were selected have performed very well, surpassing the manufacturing targets set under the PLI scheme. They have already become exporters to countries such as the US. This is a new benchmark. Further, we are witnessing a growing trend where more and more countries want to import from us.
Digital India has reached every corner of the country. The whole world is writing about it and trying to emulate what we have achieved under Digital India. Even in the smallest and remotest pocket of the country, people use digital payments. A country as technologically advanced as Japan has decided to work with us to create a payment system similar to the one India has developed. That is the kind of change that has been made in the last nine years. It is a very important milestone for the country.
6G Vision document
Recently, the government launched the 6G Vision document. The days of 2G and 3G were very different, which was followed by 4G very well. In 5G, we aim to stand on par with the rest of the world, and in 6G, we aim to take the lead. This is now possible with the collective efforts of the industry. Besides, we already have more than 200 patents in 6G technology and the number is increasing almost every week.
Semiconductors are at the heart of our telecom industry. I am delighted to share the progress on the project, which was approved during the Prime Minister’s US visit, in collaboration with Micron Technologies. We will soon complete land allocation and project approval for the first chip manufacturing plant in India. The site preparation work for the plant of Applied Materials, which will be investing about $400 million, has also started. With the launch of the plant, we will become one of the very few countries that design and manufacture the most advanced and sophisticated equipment used for semiconductor manufacturing. It is a big leap for the country because without creating the entire ecosystem, sustainable growth is not possible. That is why our focus is on creating the entire ecosystem of semiconductors.
I am also very happy to share that five design companies have been given approval for semiconductor chip design, and two of these companies will work in telecom and satellite communication. In the coming two to three years, we should have at least one chipset that is designed and manufactured in India for the telecom industry.
BSNL, BBNL and BharatNet
Around 150,000 optical fibre/broadband connections are being provided in the rural areas of the country. This can be attributed to the good work done by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), which has become profitable now. The government has a huge and clear commitment to ensure the growth and revival of BSNL and position it as an important market stabilising force.
If India is a bright spot today, telecom is one of the brightest spots. Major changes have taken place in the sector and I congratulate the industry for achieving this feat. This change is also reflected in the way the world is engaging with us today. Among the crucial decisions taken between India and the US during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the country was the decision to co-create and co-develop technology. This can be attributed to the clarity of policies and trust in Aatmanirbhar Bharat. It serves as a beacon of hope for future generations of the country. This is what will take our country to the status of a “developed nation”.
This is an opportune time when all of us should join hands and make sure that the momentum we have created is converted into products, patents and more technologies for 6G. The intermediate step between 5G and 6G is 5G Advanced. The time has come when we become more aggressive and confident, and push more intellectual property (IP) in the 5G and 5G Advanced space. As the world moves towards 6G, we will be well prepared. We should set a minimum target that 10 per cent of 6G IP rights (IPRs) should originate from India by 2029-30. This will be a big target for us, but I am sure that we can achieve it with the kind of talent we have. Our country is full of chip design engineers, telecom engineers, and practically every company in the world has its design centre in India. Why can we not have our own IPR? That should be our target. The two proposals that are approved today – the IIT Madras Advanced Optical Communication Testbed and the SAMEER 6G THz Testbed – will play a crucial role as all the IPRs, technologies and developments will be tested here.
We will be doing many more things. We are already working on the next set of telecom reforms and hopefully we should be able to roll them out in the next few weeks or maybe a couple of months. We are also working on developing a fully optical communication system, which will have practically zero latency and will be a huge advancement for telemedicine and telesurgery.