We are transitioning to a smart world: ITU-APT Foundation of India

The ITU-APT Foundation of India celebrated the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD) today.

Opening the virtual conference, Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary-General, said that every year, on May 17, ITU celebrates the World Telecommunications Day. We look at what are the new technologies like 5G, IoT, AI, blockchain, etc., are doing to improve people’s lives. They are all powerful tools to achieve the goals of sustainable development. Let’s harness ICT to accelerate the social, economic and social developmental goals for everyone, everywhere.

TR Dua, Chairman ITU-APT Foundation of India welcomed all the panelists. He said that the ITU is here to bridge the digital divide. We are transitioning to a smart world. We are now leading the creation of a digital society. We are also looking at the gender disparity among the Internet users. Today, the whole world has depended on the continuous service provided by the telecom networks. Today, WFH and social distancing are the new normal. We are entering a new era of reboot, a once in a lifetime event.

Urgent need for implementing 17 SDGs
Bharat Bhatia, President ITU APT Foundation said there are 2030 goals of the ITU to achieve sustainable development. The pandemic has highlighted the urgent need for implementing the 17 SDGs. It is critical to provide low-cost or free Internet access to the masses to help in responding to the present crisis. The 2030 UNO SDGs is where telecom and ICT play a crucial role in achieving the UNO’s 17 sustainable goals for 2030. Indian PM Modi’s call for Atmanirbhar India aligns well with these 17 SDGs. Telecom plays a crucial role in achieving all the goals.

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He said that We have four major initiatives. in realizing the dream of an Atmanirbhar India. These are:
* Low-cost 5G spectrum for operators in 3.6GHz and 26GHz through immediate spectrum auctions without any reserve price.
* Delicense E and V bands for backhaul, as well as last mile high-speed Internet access.
* Delicense additional 1200MHz for WiFi in 6GHz, with technical conditions to protect satellite uplinks, similar to what USA has done.
* Small area and captive telecom licensing to be delicensed to support industrial and captive telecom networks.

Need for robust telecom infra
Delivering the keynote, RS Sharma, Chairman, TRAI said this year’s themes are well connected with the ITU’s SDGs. Telecom is a platform for fulfilling the expectations for all. SDGs were adopted by all the member states in 2015.

He added: “I have supported all the telecom networks supporting everyone, and I do so again. Only telecom has ensured that we are mentally fit and connected. Except for the distance, we have been well served by telecom in Covid-19. We are able to detect the hotspots of Covid-19 and also do testing. We have also developed a number of digital identities, called India stack. We are having a very vibrant ecosystem of apps. We also need a very robust telecom infrastructure. The way things are going, Covid-19 will stay on, till we have a vaccine. We used to think that videoconferencing was not a good idea. That has now changed. The sessions can even be held from your home.

“WFH is quite sustainable. We can also provide telemedicine. There are sectors that are going to use the Internet a lot. Eg., WFH, education, healthcare, telecom infrastructure, e-governance, banking and payments, and even courts will have virtual hearings, entertainment, and enterprises. These will put a huge demand on the telecom infrastructure. We need to address that now. There are things like AI, IoT, etc., coming up as well. We are on course to beat the challenge and work towards achieving sustainable development.”

Malcolm Johnson Deputy Secretary General, ITU, Geneva added: “I am thrilled to see how we can use our technology to see other. We are really seeing how much we now depend on telecommunications. Good collaboration and co-operation is needed. We need to pool our resources. I would like to thank the ITU-APT Foundation of India for doing this, today. India will also be hosting the next ITU standardization council meet in New Delhi, India. We will see much more participation from India.

Let us also not forget the private sector. It is remarkable to see the resilient telecom networks. There is lot of emphasis and reliance being placed on telecom. We will also hope to get a better work-life balance. Growth, sustainability, innovativeness and partnership are all important. We are all carrying on our activities in these difficult times.

Commendable performance
Hari Ranjan Rao, Joint Secretary (Telecom), Dept. of Telecom said that the performance of telecom has been commendable. We will always be the invisible hero. We need to do 100% of our work to ensure that the world stays connected. India is now aiming for One Nation, One Ration Card! We can do this with a good telecom network. We have our jobs cut out. Eg., in education, there are so many challenges. Many schools have started education. There are many children in rural areas that do not have access to Internet. We need to think about these children. BharatNet will soon be going to deliver to the rural areas. Schools also have challenges of delivering content, in multiple languages.

We are also talking about decent work and mobile payments. We need to develop online digital technologies that can be used by all. If we do not fiberize all of our towers, we will lag behind. FTTH must be done. We have to achieve that as well. 2030 is too far off. However, we will be asked for deliverance in the months ahead. The whole world is looking at us. Are we in the position to deliver? There will be more dependance on telecom, as we go forward. Keeping the system up and safe, and constantly upgraded, will be important.

Remote, resilient infra
Dr Nigel Jefferies, Chairman, WWRF, UK, noted that the message from the technologies that we have developed are helping address the digital divide. In UK, we see people burning down 5G base stations. That’s a paranoai! We should reflect on the work that we can do. We need to build quality remote and resilient infrastructure. For eg., AI is an important tool. Secure and privacy protection measures are essential as well. By 2030, we will also need to upgrade the infrastructure. We are seeing an important case for new green radio as well.

He said: “We should facilitate sustainable infrastructure in the developed and developing countries. We are proud to work with the ITU, ITU-APT, in India, Broadband Forum in India, etc. We have just finished the 5G Huddle in New Delhi. It is important that developing countries set a goal for what needs to be achieved in the near future.” India has also been elected as a member of the ITU Council for four years, up to 2022.

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Dilip Chenoy, Secretary General, FICCI, India, noted that being one of the non-telecom people in the event, we heard the PM talk about the Atmanirbhar Bharat. He spoke about the role of technology. When everything was locked down, we could do deliveries using e-commerce. Food delivery was also happening in some places. The entire inclusion of society in India is driven by ICT. The rural urban Internet penetration is also growing. The innovation and partnership model is perhaps at the highest. There are many other instances as well. Innovations are taking place at every level. There are lot new partnerships happening as well. Telecom and ICT have the power to take this forward. We can dramatically change the way we are accelerating.

Lead the change!
Ms. Pamela Kumar, Director General TSDSI, India, said: “We are calling to ‘lead the change’. Life, as we have known it, is changing drastically. Technology has played a key role in dealing with the challenges we have faced. Bold reforms are the need of the hour. Our infrastructure should be the one that represents modern India. Technology is right at the middle!”

There are unmanned autonomous systems / robotics, IoT, AR assisted design, tele surgery, co-operative collision avoidance, 3D printing, robotics, drone control, etc. Healthtech will be zero touch. Fintech and edutech will be conducted from home or remotely. Smart cities and villages will now have several use cases of social distancing and contact tracing. We also need India specific trials, use cases and standards. You have to engineer your apps. We also need to develop use cases, create proof of concepts, and requirements. There should be demonstrations of technologies. TSDSI is acting as a collaboration platform.

Rajan Mathews, Director General, COAI, India, pointed out some issues. India has a huge amount of potential. We can innovate, and develop our own home-growm apps. The health of a nation depends on the health of its infrastructure, in this case, our networks. Right of way is absolutely essential. Spectrum is the building block of our industry. We need it at low prices.

NK Goyal, Chairman Emeritus, TEMA, India said that we must compliment DoT, TRAI, BSNL and MTNL, as well as TAIPA and COAI. We should compliment the DoT for sorting out IMEI certificates. We also need cheaper smartphones, Internet access, etc. We have a problem of how to conduct online exams? We can use BSNL to go ahead with these things. We are promoting 5G, Atmabharat, etc. We are telecom consumers. Can we think of some small operators as well?

TR Dua, Director General, TAIPA, India added that we have worked very hard to keep everyone connected over the past few months. The infrastructure providers have worked hard to keep all challenges and issues aside, and have stood tall. We had several impediments. There were problems of getting passes, equipment, diesel, etc., across the country. Field engineers were also manhandled in some stages. The continuous collaboration between the industry, the state ministries, etc., have played a big role.

The pandemic would need reshaping of the environment. Going digital is the first imperative. Innovation will become the mantra for survival and success. Supply chain will become disruptive, in speed, size and scale, with restructure, rework and renew. The immediate focus is to align the right of way. 17 states have aligned with the right of way. More will follow.

Investments in digital will be huge and lead to growth in Industry 4.0. Industry 4.0 will also help us build a robust infrastructure. TRAI has recommended to expand the scope of the infrastructure providers. It has come at a very right time. The National Digital Communications Policy will now be required to get implemented very quickly. Home is now the new office.

Bharat Bhatia, President ITU APT Foundation, concluded, saying that wireless has great potential for helping us cover all the goals. There is a lot of work to be done. High spectrum pricing has been a killer for the industry. New Zealand has shown the way by giving spectrum at a very low price. It is also time for the local industry to come up. We also need to have even more voice in the ITU.

HC Soni, Treasurer, ITU APT Foundation, proposed the vote of thanks.

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