By Sanjay Nayak
NEW DELHI: India has very quickly leap-frogged into the digital age. Almost every citizen has access to telephony and in the last few years, India has emerged as the largest carrier of Internet data traffic. The arrival of 4G and the availability of affordable smartphones has triggered a massive spurt in data consumption. Internet is getting deeper into everybody’s lives and we are witnessing large-scale adoption of mobile video, e-commerce and app-based calling platforms such as WhatsApp and Skype both in cities and small towns across the country. The data revolution is rapidly spreading to the rural and suburban areas driven by Government of India’s ambitious BharatNet project that seeks to extend a high-speed broadband connection to all the 2.5 lac gram panchayats (GPs). With the impending arrival of 5G, Internet of Things (IoT) and Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communications India is on the road to transforming into a modern digital economy by 2025.
BharatNet is the world’s largest greenfield rollouts of a rural broadband network over optical fiber. Considering the scale and the complexity of the network, the implementation challenges are also immense and Government of India should be commended for having successfully concluded the Phase-1 of the project which is providing high-speed broadband connectivity to around 100,000 GPs. For the Phase-1, we were commended for being the “Best Performing Equipment Supply Partner” for our contribution.
The Phase-2 of the BharatNet program which is being implemented by the Central government as well as many state governments will extend this connectivity to another 150,000 villages. This is a large task and the challenges come because of having multiple implementation agencies in some geographically diverse areas. There is also a need to ensure that the end-users benefit by getting easy access to various digital services so that he can see a positive impact of this project.
The Universal Service Obligation (USO) fund’s BharatNet Phase-1 and Phase-2, once completed, will provide high-speed Internet and telephony to the far-flung villages. Wherever possible, optical fiber would be the preferred option, but in order to serve remote villages in far-flung areas where it is difficult to lay fiber, we may need to use broadband wireless technologies, such as 4G/LTE, which can also provide voice as well as data services.
For the Make in India program to be successful, our government must focus on “design-led manufacturing” in addition to the traditional “factory-led manufacturing”, since telecom products are increasingly becoming IPR and software-differentiated. As a result, it is unlikely that international players can actually do any value-added manufacturing in India and make any significant contribution to make-in-India program since the technology/IPR for all their products would reside abroad and they may mostly be involved in low-end assembly/manufacturing activities in India.
This is why it is important for the government to encourage domestic R&D-led products and promote “Design and Make-in-India”. India has all the necessary ingredients to succeed in the new telecom eco-system- we have a large, experienced pool of high-end engineers who are anyway developing telecom products for global MNCs and we have a large home market and a vibrant entrepreneurial eco-system. We see strong intent from the government to support this effort since the new National Digital Communications Policy (NDCP 2018) lays strong emphasis on domestic R&D and IPR ownership in the country. TRAI has also recommended the creation of a Rs 1000 crore Telecom R&D Fund (TRDF) for creation of Indian products, which should be implemented at the earliest.
(The author is the managing director of Bengaluru-based Tejas Networks)