A World Telecommunication and Information Society Day 2020 Special
On World Telecommunication and Information Society Day 2020, Voice&Data interacted with Manoranjan ‘Mao’ Mohapatra, Chief Executive Officer, Comviva, to understand how the future of the telecommunications services and infrastructure will look like post-COVID-19. He opines that several changes are going to unfold as COVID has urged all the stakeholders in the digital world to create new workflow mechanisms that will address the digital divide.
Few Excerpts of the interaction
V&D: On World Telecom Day, can you share a long-term vision for a Connected World?
Mao: The world is slowly, but surely, transitioning towards a digital and a connected society. Telecom infrastructure does, of course, play a key role in ensuring the “connectivity” aspect. The pandemic has, in fact, accelerated this process. It has functioned as a catalyst for change in how we utilize telecom and connectivity.
While we are forced to be socially distant, we are leaning significantly on staying connected, both professionally (for work) and personally (for family). I believe that this change is here to stay for the long term; it isn’t dependent on the longevity of the pandemic.
The way we communicate will undergo a sea-change, our dependence on video and data will be enhanced significantly. In fact, the concept of work-from-home is being viewed as a viable alternate to the way we work, as opposed to functioning in a concentrated central business district. This has its own advantages. One needn’t reside in the heart of the city. Commutes are going to be much shorter and all one will require is adequate bandwidth and super high-speed connectivity.
All these factors will even accelerate the uptake of 5G. Widely held views that 4G will gradually give way to 5G are no longer relevant, keeping in mind the speed and services the technology supports. It will, in short, support the new workplace (the home) and a new way of working, which is socially distant but connected.
The divide in the network infrastructure across urban, semi-urban, and rural areas will soon cease to exist. Every cross-section of the society across geographies will require similar bandwidth, networks, and services. This will eliminate the three-tiered network, which will require telecom operators to give away picocells.
V&D: As the world is changing to a digitally connected society, what are the legacy systems that telcos have to do away with and embrace new technologies? How will the pandemic accelerate initiatives for CSPs’ digital transformation?
Mao: The divide in the network infrastructure across urban, semi-urban, and rural areas will soon cease to exist. Every cross-section of the society across geographies will require similar bandwidth, networks, and services. This will eliminate the three-tiered network, which will require telecom operators to give away picocells. However, once 4G or 5G will be deployed on universal networks, the presentation of both will be very similar in cities as well as rural areas.
Secondly, legacy monolithic operations and business support systems (OSS/BSS), billing mechanisms, etc, will cease to exist and will become subscription-based. Subscribers will be charged on a monthly basis and not on a pay-per-use system. This is because the volume is expected to be significant, which will drive down the price, and 5G will come to the fore. This is, of course, already a realistic scenario.
Legacy monolithic operations and business support systems (OSS/BSS), billing mechanisms, etc, will cease to exist and will become subscription-based.
V&D: How do you think COVID-19 has fired up Make in India projects in India? With PM Modi also insisting on Atamanirbhar India how do you believe that India’s dependency on foreign telecom infrastructure will reduce? What is Comviva’s specific Make in India plans?
Mao: This is, beyond all doubt, going to be grounded in reality, owing to multiple factors. First, the pandemic has drawn attention to the fact that the existing global supply chain isn’t viable to address such challenges. Obviously, then, the focus is on managing these priorities locally. The three areas every country ought to be self-sufficient in are food (agriculture), healthcare, and infrastructure (telecom networks, et. all).
Second, the trade war, particularly between the US and China, has led to the perception that self-reliance is the only mode of survival during such challenging times. Of course, questions pertaining to national security and whether imported telecom gear is functioning as ‘spies’ remain in a grey area. Nonetheless, having control over the supply chain, being more local and self-reliant whilst building one’s own solutions is critical. From India’s perspective, we are a fairly large country and can justify the volume to be self-sufficient. The process is becoming easier, as an increasing number of software-centric solutions get deployed on networks and the dependence on hardware reduces.
The advent of 5G will entail delivering a multitude of services on standard platforms. Comviva is well-positioned to cater to this requirement.
On its part, Comviva is building solutions that leverage standard commercial hardware and is poised to cater to the next generation. For example, the advent of 5G will entail delivering a multitude of services on standard platforms. Comviva is well-positioned to cater to this requirement. Similarly, our offerings, such as digital payments, data analytics, digital services platform, etc, are built in India. The IP belongs to an Indian company, though the offering itself caters to both, domestic and international markets.
V&D: Analysts say that command centers in well-planned smart cities have played a supporting role in contact tracing of COVID-19 cases. What is your opinion on India having well-established smart cities? What is Comviva’s effort in developing smart cities for India?
Mao: India is still evolving, with regard to smart cities. It is a very grand vision, which has (and will continue to) take time to mature. However, once these smart cities have evolved and are connected; emergencies, exigencies, or pandemics can be better managed. This is in terms of capturing, sharing, and dissemination of information, from the masses to the authorities. Comviva is not directly playing in the smart cities space. However, as 5G is rolled out and services deployed, we may contribute but will not be directly involved.
V&D: What role will the governments play in the future of telecoms?
Mao: I think the government has a very key role to play. Consider China-the government there first provides a protected marketplace to the local customer, developers, manufacturers, etc., by putting a tariff barrier on external entities.
The government can similarly provide market protection to ensure that the tenet of Make in India flourishes. This is because the volume will be inadequate for the price point to compete with imports. A degree of protection, therefore, will have to be offered, to ensure these entities catch-up with imports.
The second role the government can undertake pertains to national security. Multiple questions about whether foreign equipment vendors capture data from telecom networks for their own benefit have been raised on numerous occasions. One cannot, obviously, compromise on security and thus require ensuring our equipment is made locally.
V&D: 5G – A spectrum under speculation in India. What is your take on 5G? Is there an association between COVID-19 and 5G?
Mao: There is, indeed, a connection between COVID-19 and 5G. In fact, the former is likely to accelerate the deployment of the latter. 5G will be auctioned for business, so, obviously, the government will expect to garner benefits from the same. 5G will be viewed as an essential service, not commercial to maximize revenue. It will, in short, entail larger social compulsions.
V&D: Post COVID, how will working and job opportunities in the telecom sector become more attractive?
Mao: There will be multiple jobs in the offing, as telecom will be increasingly required. On other fronts, 70-80 percent of personnel will work from home. Connectivity will be required in a distributed fashion, as opposed to being concentrated in a central business district. This, in turn, will improve infrastructure development across the country. One would have the option to function from a location of their choice, thereby increasing the balance between work and life.