The Indian telecom sector has come a long way in terms of providing seamless broadband connectivity. While a number of factors have contributed to this transformation, the government’s Digital India initiative and BharatNet project have proved to be the key pillars for this success. Besides enhancing digitalisation, the BharatNet project has given a fillip to Make in India initiative as all the equipment and components under Phase I of the project have been indigenously manufactured. Going forward, 5G is set to emerge as the key focus area for the government as it strives to become a global leader in terms of 5G adoption. While speaking at the inaugural cere­mony of the 26th Convergence India 2018 and the second Internet of Things 2018 expo, Manoj Sinha, minister of state for communications, spoke about the transformation being witnessed by the telecom sector, the role of the BharatNet project in the Digital India and Make in India initiatives, and the government’s increasing thrust on 5G technology…

The telecom space in India is extremely dynamic and is literally evolving at the speed of thought. Interestingly, our country’s telecom story is a complex one, and often full of paradoxes. We are the second largest consumer of the internet in the world and yet, more than two-thirds of our population is still to go online.

During the past three years, the telecom industry has achieved some significant milestones. The country has added more than 266 million mobile connections and 140 million internet connections. Further, in a bid to promote digital coverage, the sector has installed around 660,000 base transceiver stations during the same period.

“The telecom space in India is extremely dynamic and is literally evolving at the speed of thought.”

Notably, the sector has come a long way since 2014 when merely five units were manufacturing telecom equipment in the country. Today, we have a staggering 118 such units that manufacture more than 225 million mobile handsets annually.

All this transformation points to a key foundational driver – the continuously increasing needs and aspirations of the people. In a rapidly globalising world, hu­­­man aspirations are not, and should not be, limited by considerations of feasibility and practicality. And I consider this to be an excellent challenge for all of us who are engaged in meeting these aspirations – academia, policymakers, industry and regulators.

It is these aspirations of our people that should guide and inspire us as we ass­e­ss, design and adopt new trends and tech­­nologies in areas such as telecom, broadcast, cable and satellite, internet of things (IoT), cloud computing, big data and analytics, content creation, and security and surveillance. The government’s Digital India mission is a unique progra­mme aimed at bridging the digital divide in the country. In support of this, the telecom department has initiated the Bharat­Net programme to broadband-enable all of the country’s 250,000 gram panchayats by March 2019. Under Phase I of this project, the government has already covered more than 100,000 gram panchayats as of December 2017. In the pro­cess, it has laid more than 260,000 km of optic fibre cables across the length and breadth of the country. In fact, the average rate of laying cables over the past 18 months has been more than 240 km per day. The project is on track to cover the remaining gram panchayats on schedule, by March 2019.

BharatNet is possibly the largest project of its kind in the world, and the infrastructure that it creates will be available for use by all service providers on a non-discriminatory basis. This infrastructure will benefit all sections of people in the country through the provision of services such as e-health and e-education. It also opens up opportunities for telecom operators, cable and broadcast operators, and e-commerce companies.

An important point to note is that all equipment and components for BharatNet Phase I have been indigenously manufactured, thereby giving a boost to the government’s Make in India programme. Interestingly, owing to its role and participation in manufacturing, the communication equipment required for BharatNet, Indian Telephone Industries Limited recently reported its first quarter of operating profit in several years.

5G is emerging as one of the most important areas for the government to explore and assess in current times. To this end, the government has taken steps to set up a test bed in the country. We are keen to collaborate with other countries engaged in this endeavour, so that we are among the leaders and not the followers in the assessment, refinement and adoption of 5G technology. We believe that this will act as a catalyst for our Digital India mission.

The scale and complexity that organisations and government bodies deal with in India, as they seek to transcend the challenges posed by the size and inherent diversity in the country, gives them rich experience and helps them build strong capabilities. Our national philosophy has always been to share this expertise with friendly countries in order to support such countries in their journeys for digital inclusion. We reach out to various countries to share with them our “know-how” as well as “know-why”, and also to learn from them as we seek to promote collaboration against competition and cooperation against conflict.