Manoj Sinha, minister of state (independent charge) for communications

The past few years have witnessed a significant transformation in the Indian digital landscape. The government has contributed significantly to this transformation. It has made digital communications a core part of the national infrastructure and has announced various initiatives such as the Digital India and BharatNet programmes to give a strong boost to digital economic activity, especially in rural and semi-rural areas. These initiatives are not only helping in employment generation, but are leading to the creation of a robust digital ecosystem. At the inaugural session of the India Mobile Congress 2018, Manoj Sinha, minister of state (independent charge) for communications, talked about the vision for a digital transformation and the various initiatives being taken by the government in this regard. Excerpts from his address…

Information and communications technology today is deeply intertwined with almost every individual, societal and global endeavour. Digitalisation has em­erged as the key driver of growth for the global economy, with the integration of data-driven technologies in every sphere of human activity.

At the heart of this paradigm shift is the splendid proliferation of digital connectivity. Today, India is the largest consumer of mobile data globally at 3.4 GB per month. To put this number in perspective, it is more than the consumption of the US and China combined. On the other hand, the tariff for data services has seen a drastic reduction of nearly 95 per cent over the past four years, from $4 per GB in 2014 to nearly $0.2 per GB today.

During the past four years, telecom to­w­­ers in the country have more than doubled, from 800,000 in 2014 to 1.8 million today. We have also doubled the optical fi­bre penetration in the country from 700,000 km in 2014 to 1.4 million km in 2018.

Rise of digital India

A few years ago, we launched Digital In­dia, a flagship programme of the government. It embodies the vision of transforming India into a digitally inclusive and em­powered society where the benefits of digital connectivity are available to each and every citizen.

To support Digital India, we have executed a unique project, BharatNet, to broadband enable the 250,000 gram panchayats in the country by March 2019. Over the past two years, we have reached the halfway mark by laying nearly 300,000 km of optic fibre cable (OFC) across the length and breadth of the country. In fact, at the peak of this project, we managed to lay around 800 km of underground OFC per day. In terms of scale, BharatNet is possibly the largest rural connectivity project in the world. The infrastructure that it creates will be available for use by all service providers on a non-discriminatory basis.

Mobile connectivity projects

While the BharatNet project aims to ensure that the social and economic benefits of digital connectivity reach the rural and remote corners of the country, we are supplementing the project with other mobile connectivity projects targeted at hitherto neglected regions of the country. To this end, a comprehensive telecom de­velopment plan with an outlay of more than Rs 100 billion is under implementation to significantly augment mobile connectivity in the north-eastern region. Similarly, we have undertaken accelerated implementation of a project to connect the Andaman & Nicobar Islands with the mainland us­ing submarine cable.

Progressive reforms and measures

During the past few years, we have taken meaningful reform-centric measures to make it easier to do business in this sector. We have allowed spectrum trading and sh­aring to drive greater efficiency in reso­urce usage, as well as the sharing of fibre, towers and base transceiver stations to improve the utilisation of infrastructure. We have also eased right-of-way rules to en­­hance speed and reduce the cost of execution, and enabled full mobile number portability to offer convenience to subscribers.

Towards 5G

Talking about the future, 5G is a topic of immense relevance to India. The government is playing the role of an enabler and facilitator in fostering a robust 5G ecosystem in the country. Our objective is to position India as a globally synchronised participant in the exploration, design, development and manufacture of 5G-based technologies, products and applications. To promote the emergence of innovative solutions through effective testing of 5G technologies, we have established advanced test beds in collaboration with the industry and premier academic institutions of India such as the IITMadras and the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru. Budgetary support for this important initiative has already been provided. These test beds provide an enabling environment for testing technology and its refinement as a precursor to final adoption.

We are now moving forward with field trials to further assess the capabilities and strengths of 5G. A high-level 5G India 2020 forum was set up in 2017 to articulate India’s 5G vision, and recommend the required policy initiatives and action plans. In August 2018, the forum submitted its recommendations to the government, which are currently under deliberation.

“The NDCP, 2018 defines our path for the next five years. It will align the efforts of various stakeholders and help us foster and sustain a robust, competitive and citizen-centric digital communication sector in the country. The implementation of the NDCP 2018 will greatly accelerate our move to a state where digital communication becomes the biggest multiplier in the socio-economic growth and development of India.”

NDCP 2018

The National Digital Communications Po­licy (NDCP), 2018, approved by the union cabinet in August 2018, defines our path for the next five years. It will align the efforts of various stakeholders and help us foster and sustain a robust, competitive and citizen-centric digital communication sector in the country. Its three missions – – Connect India, Propel India and Secure India – embody the goals and strategies to achieve the vision of the policy. I expect the implementation of the NDCP 2018 to greatly accelerate our move to a state where digital communication becomes the biggest multiplier in the socio-economic growth and development of India.