By virtue of its sheer size, India is the world’s second-largest telecommunications market, both in terms of mobile and internet subscribers with a base of 1,183.51 million and 604.21 million respectively. Despite the turbulence witnessed in recent years, the telecom sector in India has on an average seen consistent growth of more than a decade.
In fact, it would not be wrong to state that Indian telecom and technology space today is at its most dynamically vibrant stage witnessing an explosion in mobile data usage, the proliferation of 4G, impending advent of 5G and associated technologies like AI, cloud, Big Data, AR/VR, IoT—the sector is truly at its most transformational period today.
Despite facing challenges in finance, infrastructure and spectrum that needs to be addressed urgently, the Indian telecom sector has the potential to become the catalyst of growth for other industries, contributing 8.2% to India’s GDP by 2020, presaging a fully connected, intelligent India.
Indian telecom market
Strong consumer demand, coupled with the liberal and reformist policies of the Indian government have boosted the rapid growth in the Indian telecom sector. We have to thank Indian government for enabling an equal opportunity market access to all telecom equipment manufacturers and encouraging a proactive regulatory framework that has ensured affordable telecom services to the average consumers.
The Ministry of Communications and Department of Telecom have proven to be immensely instrumental to support the augmented growth in the Indian telecom sector.
The deregulation of FDI in the sector, from 74% to 100%, has made it one of the fastest growing. FDI inflow of 32+ billion USD has been recorded by the telecom sector over the past 19 years. The Government of India has also manifested its intentions through its mission—Connect India, Propel India and Secure India in the National Digital Communications Policy 2018, which has envisaged attracting investments worth USD 100 billion in the telecommunications sector by 2022.
At the same time, the Department of Electronics and Information Technology of India has also published its Internet of Things policy that forecasts strong growth for the IoT industry in India, led by areas such as agriculture, health, transportation, automobile, supply chain management and smart cities.
Projects like Bharat-Net envisage extending connectivity to 250K gram panchayats which will progressively enable rural India to participate globally.
Even with these positive initiatives, it is quite evident that the telecom sector is currently undergoing an episode of financial stress. The estimated debt burden on the telecom industry today is at 100 billion USD. I hope that the government will move imperatively and rationalise the high levies in the sector, as an example rationalising certain taxes to provide relief to the stressed sector.
Without the government allowing some immediate relief, there is the risk of a domino effect on the larger digital value chain.
While the industry has oriented itself to service the sudden increased subscriber base, it is also simultaneously shifting towards a value-added services model for an enhanced consumer experience. The backhaul capacity needed for carrying this huge traffic and meeting these demands is not available. It will take lot of cost for telecom carriers to build new fibre-based infrastructure to have any bandwidth at any site and also to increase their site footprint to keep pace with the market developments and trends.
The unavailability of adequate front-haul and back-haul spectrum especially 5G and E/V-Band is worth noting. Further, to meet future demand for microwave backhaul, we recommend that E-band should be opened for backhaul immediately.
With 5G hitting the doors in India, most telecom service providers will need sufficient spectrum in C-Band (preferred spectrum for 5G globally), preferably 100 MHz to provide various services. Liberalised norms of spectrum sharing, and suitable telecom manufacturing investment incentives will certainly prove to be advantageous.
Technology innovations brought to India
From its very inception, innovation has been Huawei’s driving force. It has been innovating for customers across the value chain, establishing leadership by creating maximum value for carriers, enterprise and consumers. The company has a rich history of innovations in ICT industry.
During the last decade, Huawei introduced world’s first distributed base station, single RAN base station, CA microwave ODU, 50G Flex interface in IP, 120 channel in C-band for WDM, and CUPS in packet core.
These innovations have not only helped to enhance network capacity, reduce network latency and customers’ TCO, but also significantly lowered the barriers to network rollout. In the devices business, the company has become No. 2 global smartphone vendor in a span of five years.
Huawei’s India journey has been a rich two-decade long story of close collaboration, service and innovation. Since establishing the largest R&D centre outside China in Bengaluru in 1999, the operation in India today includes a widespread presence boosted by a Global Service Centre, OpenLab, Innovation Centre, and customer experience centres that cater to Indian as well as global customers.
Through close co-operation with the government in India, local institutions, and network operators, we have achieved several innovative and industry first achievements in business, operations and service, including the first 4G launch, the first narrowband 4G LTE, and the first 5G network test with Bharti Airtel.
To address the unique requirements and challenges of the Indian market, the company has introduced highly customized solutions such as massive MIMO, CloudAIR and high-capacity microwave, all of which have been well received by the industry, solving not only the customer issues, but eventually promoting the ICT ecosystem development of the entire industry.
Leading technologies and solutions, quick response and service are our key advantages, which have been duly recognised by leading operator customers in India.
Today, in addition to co-operating with carriers in multiple domains, we have gradually expanded and deepened our co-operation with enterprises. We focus on the financial, energy, government, transportation, ISP, and IT/ITeS industries and have developed more than 10 local ecosystem partners for joint solution development and solution pre-integration. We jointly promote Digital India to help the digital transformation of Indian enterprises.
Huawei leverages the collective wisdom of the world’s brightest minds, both within and outside of the company, to help shape the next era of consumer technology. It has made major breakthroughs in areas such as chipsets, user interface (UI), and dual/triple-lens camera technology. With an “India-first” approach, the company also looks forward to introducing features such as support for 28 Indian languages, customized local calendar and deeper integration of local services in our devices.
With non-stop breakthroughs in 5G and AI, along with more widespread adoption of digital technology in general, ICT is evolving from a vertical industry to a platform industry that underpins society as a whole. Huawei will stay the course and work closely with its customers and partners to build an ecosystem that thrives on shared success.
We will do our best to push the limits of technology and promote social progress bringing digital to every person, home and organisation for a fully connected, intelligent world.
The author is CEO, Huawei India.