In the era where the strength of a telco or digital communications player will be determined by how effectively and innovatively it interfaces with the individuals and things through creatively crafting applications, silence on the app ecosystem is a major miss in the NDCP 2018
The journey towards all IP networks has started the third major era of the telecommunications globally. The first era was all about infrastructure, second about convergence and third is about applications. Though the complexities, primarily magnitude and the widening demographic divide in the country demand focus at all of these three aspects even in this time and age. This has also been recognised by the NDCP (National Digital Communications Policy) 2018, by having ‘Connect India’ and ‘Propel India’ as two focus areas apart from ‘Secure India’.
The Indian telecom, now Digital infrastructure, as well as requirements, are such that we shall continue to focus on building the infrastructure. This is very well recognised by the NDCP 2018. Be it Connect or Propel, its primarily infrastructure.
What is surprising is that the policy completely ignores the application era of telecom, which is what we are into! Telecom is now beyond convergence – whether at service, infrastructure or subscriber level. The first era of infrastructure provisioning was all about enabling the service. The convergence era was more about how to offer more services to increase the ARPU or maximise the revenue from the same subscriber. The era from now onwards is about value and wealth maximisation. As we go digital for every purpose and it will be a ‘digital first’ sentiment, the telecom operators have to evolve as application operators. This is the reason that the competition is shifting from infrastructure to application level. That is why OTT players are in direct competition with the telecom operators. Had infrastructure alone been the competitive edge, operators would not have been losing at the cost of OTTs.
Telecom operators of the time are facing ‘existential’ competition from applications like Facebook, WhatsApp, Netflix, etc., to name a few. All these apps are driven by value and wealth creation and maximisation. Be it at an individual level or at the scale of an organisation, applications are all that matter. Even the challenger operator Jio is actually an applications-oriented operator. Had there been infrastructure to let Jio do what they want to in the market, they would have perhaps never got the telecom operator route. This orientation of Jio is futuristic and every operator shall have to align not that Jio is challenging them, but the market demands are so.
Unfortunately, the NDCP 2018 draft, has very loosely attended to the application era. It has reference at only two places – one about encouraging use of APIs and the other encouraging start-ups to innovation in the application services. This is not enough. The policy should have opened up a thought on how the transformation of telecom operators should be strategized so that they evolve as strong applications driven operators.
The draft policy is too heavy on infrastructure and one completely agrees that without a dense, robust, agile and scalable infrastructure the applications would be of no use. However, as the all focus of the present avatar of the policy is about Digital, no path-breaking achievements would be scored without facilitation, creation and scaling up of a thriving application ecosystem.
It is only through applications that the emerging technologies referred to in the policy document like 5G and IoT can become meaningful to a user or an organisation and without that value-add layer through applications, these will just remain good technology terms. The use cases will come only from applications.
As we usher into a Digital Economy era, telecom has a lot more role to play than envisaged and for this the operators will have to transform into applications led operators. The NDCP 2018 has to delve into this critical aspect and be a vision document for the industry as well as entire ecosystem about how the transformation would be achieved. In the present form, the policy is banking too much on infrastructure and we all know the issues in building infrastructure in a heterogeneous geography like India, where infra projects have historically missed their timelines. In light of that, the objectives aspired in the policy have a greater probability of missing the timelines and hence whatever is envisioned may not be achieved in the allocated timeframe.
This policy document should be ‘application first’ in approach and then have a backward integration right up to infrastructure aligned so that we are clear how the infrastructure will be put to use once developed. As every rule of the game is undergoing a transformation, so has the policy making as well. It has to be use case driven and that won’t happen if we isolate the applications.