India has experienced a multi-fold increase in digital adoption, making it the second largest consumer Internet market. Increased investments in digital infrastructure will lead to faster adoption of emerging technologies. To further strengthen the sector, a sustained and comprehensive approach is the need of the moment.
India currently has 34 rural Internet subscribers per 100 inhabitants and 1.75 lakh villages are connected to fiber. The government has taken major initiatives under the Digital India program to provide internet access and connectivity to all areas, including rural and remote areas.
Emerging technologies and very high speed connectivity require special attention to several challenges, ranging from product manufacturing to last mile service delivery.
The first priority is the construction of digital infrastructure, which is essential for economic growth, job creation and the provision of services. India has an extensive network of fiber optic cables in the public and private sectors which constitutes its digital highways and is gradually increasing its availability per capita. About 30% of the 640,000 existing telecommunications towers are fiber-optic and the rest must be done quickly.
In the 5G ecosystem, the number of towers is expected to reach around two million and nearly 80% of them would need a fiber optic cable link. In addition, the existing fiber optic network would require upgrading and, as part of BharatNet 1, would have to be extended to a ring architecture to maintain services despite fiber cuts.
An independent government entity with expertise that uses funds from the dedicated digital infrastructure pool, builds state-of-the-art digital networks and works on the business model of leasing fiber and infra to Internet service providers, would speed up the process.
Given the current telecom scenario, it would be relevant to further increase the government’s share of investment in setting up digital fiber networks.
Second, digital transformation will have a significant impact on critical sectors like manufacturing, agriculture, health, education, etc. Covid-19 has forced the closure of 1.5 million schools that have affected 247 million children enrolled in elementary and secondary schools, making online courses the new normal.
To smoothly implement the new education process in a post-Covid world, we need to work on e-readiness, digital literacy and safe internet spaces. Since the domestic industry is growing rapidly, a comprehensive policy framework for organizing and clarifying collective principles, functions, definitions, requirements and practices will go a long way.
Third, 5G is expected to create a cumulative economic impact of $ 1 trillion in India by 2035. Several critical policy initiatives including spectrum, technology demonstration and major testing are underway. To accelerate the adoption of 5G, the government could adopt a software delivery model.
In the 5G ecosystem, national actors are now available across the network and this ecosystem can thrive with the right government support. We need to replace our dependence on imported foreign technology with local innovations and businesses.
To establish a globally relevant 5G ecosystem, the industry must explore ways to establish semiconductor manufacturing units in the country, utilize government R&D incentives, and undertake domestic manufacturing of 5G equipment / hardware / software, etc.
Digital security: The fourth priority for digital capacity building is the security aspect. The government plans to unveil a new cybersecurity strategy this year. The vision of the strategy is to ensure a safe, secure, resilient, dynamic and trustworthy cyberspace. It will serve as a guideline to manage all aspects such as governance, national data resources, local capacity building and cyber audits.
Industry must discuss and convey vital contributions to government in areas such as cybersecurity management of private sector organizations that own and operate critical infrastructure, incentivize industry to invest in cybersecurity, coordination through an integrated command and control system. control entity for agencies including private operators. Accelerate the impact of policies: Finally, home manufacturing is an essential prerequisite for the digital mission. The government has announced and rolled out many incentives and programs like NDCP, PLI, RoW, SPECS, MSIPS, etc. to boost the domestic manufacturing sector. Along with these historic reforms, India must have a framework for comprehensive policy planning, reduce its dependence on telecommunications imports, and make effective use of trade incentives and remedies.
To accelerate the deployment of infrastructure, the 2016 priority rules were a useful first step. To make it more efficient, by granting right-of-way authorizations with uniform standards for restoration costs, a common duct policy for all infrastructure to avoid repeated digging and a one-stop-shop system for approvals could be adopted.
Information technology is creating a smart world, from smart cities to smart businesses and schools. Government-led investment in digital infrastructure, recalibration of budget allocation for the telecommunications sector, exploration of new and innovative sources of funding for digital infrastructure, effective delivery models and promoting Make in India will transform the nation.
Chandrajit Banerjee, Managing Director, CII ([email protected])