By Raj Sethia, CEO Firefly Networks Limited - NAAS | Digital Access | Wi-Fi
Between the 1st and 4th of October 2022, the Department of Telecommunications (DOT) and the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) hosted the much-anticipated flagship event of India's mobile industry at Pragati Maidan in New Delhi. After a three-year hiatus, IMC held its first in-person event.
The event provided an excellent forum for industry, academia, and policymakers to discuss the present status of the industry as well as the emerging trends, and developments in the world of digital communications. This was accomplished through some well-curated panel discussions, keynote addresses, and interactive sessions, which were ably supplemented by impressive demos and experiential exhibits across all booths.
From remote health and robotic surgeries to agro-tech solutions and pollution control, and cloud gaming to the use of AR (Augmented Reality) and VR (Virtual Reality) for training and education, the range was overwhelming. As a breath of fresh air, most of the industry players, including the young start-ups, were attempting to solve India's problems rather than selling globally available solutions.
Here are my top 5 takeaways from the event:
1. The Big Shift
The level of engagement, support, participation, and visibility provided by the government, industry, and administration was impressive, demonstrating their collective commitment to and enthusiasm for the Digital India Vision. Themes such as Make in India, Aatmanirbhar Bharat, and Start-Up India, which many saw as too bold and audacious a few years ago, have permeated deeply into the consciousness of every link in the industry value chain. This in itself marks a watershed moment in our history and the government, and every citizen of India should be immensely proud of it.
However, one notable (and unexpected) feature of the event was the conspicuous absence of hyper-scalers, handset behemoths, and large passive infrastructure providers, all of whom are integral, and equally committed to the next phase of India's networks and the digital revolution.
2. No Tech-Babble, all applications, mostly 5G and Enterprise Centric
The focus of this IMC 2022 was on use cases and applications, rather than technical jargon, feature enhancements, and capability upgrades. Unsurprisingly, 5G and 5G-led industrial applications dominated the conference sessions, demos, and exhibits.
Fixed Wireless Access is likely to be the most important 5G use case in the short term, while business applications will receive most of the attention in the medium and long term.
3. The barely visible elephant in the room – Viable Indoor Connectivity
While there was a lot of emphasis on use cases and adequate focus on coverage and access, the big elephant in the room that did not get much attention during the event is the delivery of commercially viable indoor connectivity. There could have been critical discussions and sharing of international best practices on how the industry and the government together could create commercial models that made sharable and 5G-ready indoor and dense outdoor infrastructure possible through a mix of Small Cells, DAS (Distributed Antenna System) and Wi-Fi 6/6E/7 technologies to serve emerging use cases.
This, in my view, is an area that will necessitate significant innovation and lateral thinking, and I hope it occurs sooner rather than later.
4. The Emerging Star - Network as a Service
Given the nature and complexity of delivering new use cases to customers, the Network-as-a-Service model will be one of the fastest-growing business streams over the next 3-5 years, taking various shapes and forms.
All customer-facing solution providers, such as MNOs (Mobile Network Operators) and SIs (System Integrators), will require skilled, professional, and dependable intermediary partners for bundled, segment-specific NAAS infrastructure and solutions delivery. They must now rapidly develop and mature the capabilities and expertise required to nurture and manage through multiple partners across key customer verticals such as healthcare and aviation.
All their upstream and downstream channel or service partners, infrastructure service providers, and OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) must thus align with this emerging reality and prepare for a more verticalized approach with distinct and often customizable offerings for different business verticals.
This will demand non-linear innovation in the form of new operating and commercial models across the value chain.
5. Mainstreaming of Open-Source Solutions
"Open source," whether it is software, Open RAN (Radio Access Network), or Open Wi-Fi, is now clearly mainstreamed even in the industry's most strict proprietary domains and is universally recognized as a key driver of innovation and cost competitiveness. Advancement of Open Wi-Fi, thanks to the excellent work of TIP (The Infrastructure Project), was a revelation for many, including myself.
Aside from the specific event, the IMC 2022 in general demonstrated India's noteworthy progress in organizing large-scale, large-scale, and global-quality events. With the ongoing redevelopment of Pragati Maidan as a world-class convention location, one should not be surprised to see India emerge as a major hub for Asia to host industry fairs and exhibitions over next 2-3 years. Specifically, for tech and digital space.
In this regard too, IMC 2022 was an excellent starting point for this techade!
Raj Sethia founded and currently leads FireFly Networks Limited, a joint venture between Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea. He has over 18 years of experience in the telecommunications industry, holding positions in Finance, Corporate Planning, Strategy, New Business Development, and General Management. A digital enthusiast who enjoys reading, dreaming, traveling, meeting interesting people, and watching random YouTube videos in his spare time. The opinions expressed here are entirely his own.