Draft Digital Communications Policy: Innovative Solutions Will Propel India

Development of India-specific solutions will help India to leapfrog in new technologies like 5G, IoT (Internet of Things) and AI (Artificial Intelligence) and will also address the issue of employment generation

The recently released draft National Digital Communication Policy 2018 has been able to create a lot of buzz and hope for the telecom industry going through a tough time. With shrinking margins amidst increasing competition and high capital expenditure, many players in the sector have decided to either shut shop or merge with the existing players. This has led to rampant unemployment and uncertainty in the industry.

However, a sudden spurt in data and broadband consumption in the past one year or so has raised hopes of the industry. The industry now sees growth prospect in new areas such as 5G, Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

The Propel India mission envisaged in the new digital communication policy is a right step in the direction of achieving the goal of expanding the industry’s horizon in new technologies. The Propel India mission hopes to attract investment of $100 billion in the digital communication sector and enhance the IoT ecosystem to touch 5 billion connected devices or `things’.

One of the critical goals of Propel India is to promote startups, which is the key to the development of Indian IPRs (Intellectual Property Rights). A new technology-driven start-up ecosystem would further help in the development of India-specific technology solutions which are unique to India. This will also address the issue of employment generation, one of the major problems facing the country now. Propel India targets training or re-skilling one million workforces in new age skills.

While the push for futuristic technology is a visionary move, the government is also aware of the fact that despite big strides in digitization and telecommunication, a large part of the country remains unconnected. Despite over 90% teledensity in the country, the rural teledensity is just 57.4% compared with the urban teledensity of 163.2%. The government seeks to address this issue through its mission Connect India as outlined in the new telecom policy.

The Connect India mission of the policy targets connectivity to all uncovered areas and provide universal broadband coverage at 50 Mbps to every citizen. Among its other goals are fixed line broadband access to 50% of the households, 65% unique subscriber density by 2022 and covering 10 million people by deploying public Wi-Fi.

The third major initiative under the telecom policy is Secure India, which addresses the issue of data security and safety. This is very much in keeping with the growing concern globally about the safety of data and the efforts made in this regard.

The recent incident of Facebook and Cambridge Analytics has put the spotlight back on date safety. Globally, efforts are being made to address this concern. European Union is coming up with a stringent policy, Global Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), to prevent the misuse of citizen’s personal information.

How Service Providers Can `Connect’ And `Propel’ At The Same Time?

The challenge before the service providers is to align with the government’s objectives (as laid down in the telecom policy) and to strike a balance between preparing for the next generation technologies and addressing the basic problem of non-coverage of services in many areas.

What makes their task even more difficult is the fact that they have to do so in a highly competitive market, where average revenue per user (ARPU) and margins of all the service providers are on a decline.

To tide over this dilemma, they can always lean on low-cost technology like cloud and virtualisation. Virtualisation can replace the traditional hardware, which is not just costly (equipment cost, etc) but also consumes expensive resources like energy and space.

For the service providers to expand in rural areas, where the ARPU is typically low and population density is low, technologies like virtualisation always make sense as they keep the cost of infrastructure cheaper.

Virtualisation-based technologies like Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) are already being used globally to keep the cost of network deployment low. One of the benefits of software-based technology is that it allows the service providers the flexibility to smoothly migrate from 3G to 4G and 5G as and when the market is ready.

The success of the telecom policy would depend on how well the service providers make use of these low-cost technologies. Of course, the government can also help by bringing down the spectrum cost and other costs related to licenses.

Author: Rajesh Mishra, Co-founder, President and CTO, Parallel Wireless