National Digital Communications Policy: Telcos need to think out of the box to realise the vision stated in the policy

The industry is on the cusp of growth and hopes to play a key role in the development of new age technologies including 5G, Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence.

There is a lot to cheer about in the recently released draft of National Digital Communications Policy (NDCP) 2018. The policy comes at a crucial juncture when the industry is in the midst of tough times. A spate of merger and acquisitions deals recently have led to unemployment and uncertainty. At the same time, the growth of the mobile broadband consumption in the last one-year is an indication of the vast growth potential of the industry.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

The industry is on the cusp of growth and hopes to play a key role in the development of new age technologies including 5G, Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence. Both the government and the industry are working to gain momentum in these technologies and Propel India plan is a right step in this direction. The initiative hopes to attract investment of $100 billion in the Digital Communications Sector and to expand India’s Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem to 5 billion devices.

A policy push to promote startups is crucial to develop Indian IPR and will also help the industry to come up with technologies and use cases that address the unique problems faced by the country’s citizens. It will also help in generating employment, which is also one of the key objectives of Propel India.

On the other hand, a lot needs to be done to connect the unconnected. The rural teledensity in the country is abysmally low at 57.4 percent when compared with urban teledensity of 163.2 percent, as per the latest data released by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).

Connect India is clearly targeted to address the huge digital gap in the industry. It seeks to “ensure connectivity to all uncovered areas” and to “provide universal broadband coverage at 50 Mbps to every citizen”, amongst other objectives. It is heartening to see the administration’s commitment to providing connectivity and mobile broadband to all sections of the society.

The balancing act

The service providers will need to find a fine balance between preparing for the next generation technologies and also addressing the connectivity needs of the unconnected. And all this in a hypercompetitive market where they continuously have to come up with new tariff plans and initiatives in response to the competitor.

The service providers will do well to explore technologies like Virtualisation. The industry needs to adopt low-cost technologies, including cloud, virtualisation and to bring down the cost of expanding coverage in rural India.

A visitors walks past a 5G sign during Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, February 28, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard - RC1FED28BDE0

A visitors walks past a 5G sign during Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, February 28, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard - RC1FED28BDE0

The traditional hardware-centric strategy is hardly going to be profitable in the rural part of the country where the average revenue per user (ARPUs) are typically low and the population density is low and spread over large areas when compared with the urban population spread.

Principles of Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV) can be adopted to bring down the cost of network deployment. At the same time, the network is agile and can be upgraded to new technologies like 4G and 5G whenever the market is ready. The traditional network deployment strategies are unlikely to help in meeting the mandate of the NDCP Policy. The government can also look at bringing down the spectrum cost and telecom charges to empower the service providers to provide quality services in a cost-effective manner.

The third initiative of note is Secure India. This is in keeping with the global trend towards improving and ensuring data protection of the citizens. For instance, the European Union is coming up with stringent policy, Global Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), later this month to prevent the misuse of citizen’s personal information. The recent incident of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica data scandal has also put the spotlight on the security issue. So the tenets of Secure India are in line with the global phenomenon.

In the end, it is significant that the Government decided to call the policy as Digital Communications and not the usual Telecom Policy.

The time is right for the different segments of the industry to work towards the common goal of digitalisation, which will benefit the society as well as businesses and will also enable the industry to realise the vision of National Digital Communications Policy.

The author is the co-founder, president and CTO of Parallel Wireless

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