Telecom Sector Paving the Way for Emerging Technologies

By: Rajan S Mathews, Director General, COAI

As the telecom sector commemorate the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day, we cannot discount the instrumental role futuristic technologies such as AI will play in paving our path towards a digitally empowered, technologically advanced socio-economic entity.

This year’s theme has been rightfully titled, “Enabling the positive use of Artificial Intelligence for All’, reflects the tremendous progress made in Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology in the recent years. This has been made possible by remarkable advancement in related fields, such as Big Data, machine learning, storage, superfast computing and cloud storage, among others.  AI-based technologies are already being used to improve healthcare services, education, agriculture, transportation and a number of other important sectors. 2018 could be a cornerstone year for the integration of AI in our daily lives, making life easier and better for all.

Focusing on AI could add to the impetus that the draft National Digital Communications Policy 2018 provided to the financially distressed telecom sector. The draft policy and the initiatives proposed therein are well poised to propel India towards a global knowledge revolution. AI is a crucial enabler for achieving the national goals in the areas of health, education and capacity building. With a positive ecosystem, driven by better connectivity and a financially robust sectorial health, AI will unveil possibilities hitherto unimaginable. I firmly believe that India will be one of the fastest adopters of AI technology based services.

The Government of India, Ministry of Telecommunications has played a commendable role and provided unstinted support to ensure the widespread reach of telecom in the country. The industry has played its part in expanding infrastructural capabilities in order to build robust connectivity and provide uninterrupted digital services to one and all. Till date, a staggering INR 10.4 lakh crore have been invested by Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) in building an indigenous world class Telecom Infrastructure. More than 3 lakh Base Transceiver Stations (BTSs) were added in last one year taking the total number to 17.64 lakh.

The proliferation of telecom infrastructure in the rural and remote areas has resulted in better connectivity and improved usability of the telecom services. TSPs had already established infrastructural blue-print for services ranging from 3G to 4G, and now, they are taking adequate measures to build the foundation for emerging technologies such as 5G, AI, IoT, and M2M, among others things.

With constantly shifting demands of the telecom ecosystem, a greater focus is being laid by Department of Telecommunications on the implementation of the Right of Way Policy at the State level. Six States – Rajasthan, Haryana, Odisha, Maharashtra, Assam and Tripura – have already adopted the Right of Way (RoW) Rule 2016 and many other states are being aligned to do the same.

Being one of the most comprehensive tower policies, Odisha Policy has also been adopted by the Department of Telecommunications as the ideal policy for implementation for all the states across India. The rules mandate development of an electronic application process within one year of the roll-out of ROW rules, single clearance window for application, designation of nodal officers, and fast-tracking decision on RoW permission up to 60 days to enable swift deployment of new telecom infrastructure, thus significantly aiding to improve socio-economic growth.

Further, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has notified the policy for installation of telecom infrastructure in cantonment areas under the tri-services. The policy covers allotment of defence land on lease for static towers as well as permission to use land on a licence basis for placing cell towers on wheels, permitting use of rooftop in government and private buildings, including private land in military stations to registered infrastructure providers. This policy will help improve coverage gap and reduce call drops in and around military stations and cantonment areas.

One of the best take away being, the NDCP 2018 recognises spectrum as a natural resource and therefore, will ensure its adequate availability, efficient usage and putting together a fair and transparent allocation method for service providers. Having taken cognizance of the high cost of spectrum, the policy has also suggested for adopting optimal pricing to ensure sustainable and affordable access to digital communication. The final policy will give a final shape to guide the evolution of telecom industry in the country.

The NDCP 2018, apart from building the way for the development of telecom and digital services in the country, would also create 40 lakh new jobs, thereby providing an impetus to skill-set improvement.  Moreover, the proposed investment of USD 100 billion in the communication industry will not only make communication services accessible to everyone, but will also provide much needed relief to the industry. The policy focusses on the sector’s long-term sustainability and ability to invest in new technologies.

As the sector is reeling under financial stress, TRAI’s recommendations on Ease of Doing business and in-flight connectivity are significant moves. If done in conjunction with licensed service providers, this will provide a secure network and create a steady revenue stream for telcos and airlines alike. This is indeed play a significant role in helping the sector to recap.

It is impossible to disassociate Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious Digital India program from the country’s telecom sector and the promise it holds. Everything – people, places and things are and will continue to be impacted by this digital disruption. Just by improving telecom and internet penetration, India can experience significant growth that can help establish it as a global leader in technology. The industry is committed to furthering the national goal. Sound reforms, a robust telecom sector amalgamated with best in breed technologies will go hand in hand in ushering a new India.

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