Let C-DoT have total autonomy

VoicenData Bureau
New Update

A visionary, innovator and leader, Sam Pitroda is a cult figure not only in

India but also worldwide. When in India, he was instrumental in setting up C-DoT

and Telecom Commission. He was instrumental in bringing the PCO revolution in

India. A telecom man who never used a telephone before going to the US, has 50

patents in his name. Currently chairman and CEO, WorldTel, Pitroda is working to

develop telecom infrastructure in developing countries. He is also adviser to

Kofi Annan for ICT. He spoke to VOICE&DATA about patents, digital divide, C-DoT,

and challenges for Indian telecom. Excerpts:


You have been filing a lot of patents right since your initial days in the

US. Would you tell us about some of the patents that  you have filed



have not understood the contribution of C-DoT in India. It was not

about designing products but building institutions, infrastructure

and people"



and CEO, WorldTel

I have 50 worldwide patents in my name. The electronic diary patent was

issued in 1974 and it expired in 1991, as then patents had a life span of 17
years, which has now been extended to 20 years. Many of my patents have to do

with digital switching, synchronization, tone generation, tone receiving, and

conferencing. These patents were filed in 1960s, but for the last ten years, I

didn’t filed any patent due to lack of time. Recently, I have started filing a

lot of patents. Currently, I am working on ten patents on m-commerce.


On the m-commerce front, I have developed a wallet, which will have all kinds

of cards like credit card, debit card, health card, insurance card, and driving

license. Everything is stored electronically and delivered over the air. For

example, in my wallet there is a live American Express card rather than a

plastic one. When a transaction is made, electronic image is sent and one can

store all the receipts. There is a portal at the backend for my transactions. I

am working on this right now and trying to commercialize it in Japan, Europe,

and the US. We had a trial in Japan and we are having another trial there.

You are an adviser to Kofi Annan for ICT Advisory Committee, which is

looking at the digital divide globally. How can India benefit from your

experience in digital divide, as the divide is both in terms of geographies and


One thing that India needs to do is to emphasize on some standards in

e-governance, e-cash, e-health, and e-learning. Many are doing their own little

things here and there. This country is too big and we need to get a few things

in place at a national level in terms of agenda. There is no national agenda for

these items. It is left to the state and they are doing their own thing, which

is fine, but we need to give them the sense of direction and support, so that it

can reach to the masses.

Are you satisfied with the way the Indian telecom has progressed over the


I have never been satisfied with the progress in India but I appreciate the

progress in India. I compliment people who are doing things but our biggest

enemy is time. We are running against time. A country of a billion people cannot

do things at the pace we have been doing.


In the past, C-DoT was an achievement for Indian telecom but at present

its condition has deteriorated. You being the founder of C-DoT know what it

makes to succeed. To regain its pristine glory what should the government do for


I think people have not understood the contribution of C-DoT in India.

Besides rural exchanges and STD PCOs, the company has installed 20 million

lines, which is a huge number and helped in creating local jobs and local

talents. Setting up C-DoT helped in saving a lot of foreign exchange for India.

Hundreds of our young people have left and gone all over the world, and have set

up their own businesses and made a mark. We train people from scratch. We have

set up ancillary industries from scratch. In those days, we were not making

connectors and we were not making PCBs with multi-layers in India. So it was not

about designing products but building institutions, infrastructure and people.

And the best part is that what we did it.

At present, C-DoT lacks leadership and one has to get out of the government

clutches. C-DoT has to get out from the government processes by giving them a

lot of autonomy and more independence. Give autonomy to the chief executive.

Select the chief executive of C-DoT from all over the world and not from the

cadre. Get the best talent available and pay him what market demands. The review

committee of C-DoT has looked into aspects like organization, leadership,

product audit, financials, HRD, processes, and marketing alliances, and would

soon be submitting its report.

What about WorldTel activities in the developing and under developed

countries? Is WorldTel doing any activity in India?

Seven years ago when we started WorldTel, privatization had not taken roots

in many of the developing economies. WorldTel was initiated by International

Telecommunication Union (ITU) to help develop telecom infrastructure in the

developing countries. But now with privatization making inroads in many

countries, I think the utility of WorldTel is reduced which is good, as that was

the idea when WorldTel was formed. The idea was to get out of business such that

other people can begin to participate through private equity and that is already

happening all over the world.


In India, we had a joint venture with Reliance, which we later sold off to

Reliance. Reliance is now doing a nationwide rollout, so we are no longer

active. We are interested in Mexico, Ajerbajin, twelve countries in Africa,

Bangladesh, and Zimbabwe. At present, we are active in Bangladesh, where we have

a license, and in Mexico, we have a project of one million WLL lines.

What is the biggest challenge that Indian telecom is facing currently?

The biggest challenge right now is to privatize the incumbent operators–BSNL

and MTNL. Either privatize MTNL and BSNL after their merger or privatize them

without merging. It‘s time when the government should privatize MTNL and BSNL

and reduce its share to 51 percent.

To meet the targets of NTP ’99, the country needs a huge FDI investment

in the country. How can India tap FDI?

The international community needs consistent messages. We should not confuse

them by giving contradictory messages, as it makes investors to back off from

India. It is still complicated to do business in India, as it is not simple in

comparison to world standards. We still have to fill about 35 forms in

comparison to 75 forms that we used to fill earlier. If one compares with the

global standards, it is still on the higher side. We still have a long way to go

for attracting private investment, in terms of FDI in the country.

Pravin Prashant