For the next seven months until the end of his 40-year career with the government, R.S. Sharma, chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), has a busy schedule. In various roles, Sharma introduced major changes in telecom regulations, played a key role in India’s unique identification program and worked to maintain law and order in some of the most notorious districts of Bihar, where he served as magistrate in several districts during the 1980s. He seems to believe he has solved most of the troubling issues in the telecom sector in the past two years.
Now, Sharma has set a target of finishing all pending consultations before July, and the coming few weeks will see the regulator issue new rules on tariff assessment, announce the new international mobile termination charge and come out with a new consultation paper seeking inputs on regulation of over-the-top (OTT) services. Edited excerpts from an interview:
What is the regulator’s agenda for the coming year?
There are some pending papers in the advanced pipeline, those we will finish off. Whatever papers are out (in consultation stage), those I plan to complete before July. We are going to have meetings with industry bodies. We will meet broadcasting players on 12 January and telecom players on 23 January to decide the agenda for the year. We will also review what was discussed last year, how much has been completed, how much is left to be done.
What all is left from last year’s agenda?
We have sorted out most things. I don’t think there are any major immediate issues left, but there may be some...it is a developing field...technology is progressing very fast.
Internet of things (IoT), machine-to-machine, cloud, all that we have done. 5G we have not done but (for the) rest, we have brought out policies. We have given recommendation on net neutrality also.
So, most of the stuff is done and the rest, for example the principles of tariff assessment, all those things are going to come in the next one or two weeks. Rest we will ask the industry “what do you think are the issues to be considered”.
What are the issues?
I will not like to give my list. Let me first ask the industry what their priorities are. My broad overarching thing had been that India should not be behind the technology curve. I will always think of policies and direction in which we nudge the players to improve technology.
How do you see the sector?
This is one sector whose area of applications are increasing by leaps and bounds. It has now become central to every sector.
Previously, your telecom was only for talking. Then, telecom also became a means of accessing internet. Now, it has become a means of delivering services in agriculture, health, transport, smart cities, sewage disposal, etc. So it is now becoming all-pervasive. So, information and communication technologies have become central to the growth story of any country. And that will require these networks and pipes and data and everything.
So here is one industry which has no demand slack. The more data you produce, it will be consumed. Today, our data consumption per capita is the highest in the world. Today, wireless data consumption per month is 1.5 exabytes, which is more than what the US consumes. This industry in near future is not going to suffer demand slump.
Will the traditional architecture of the industry change?
Another thing which is happening is essentially unbundling. Unbundling is extremely important. In a way, net neutrality is also a part of unbundling. We are saying you don’t bundle the content with the pipe. These are two independent things. Similarly, what is happening in this space also is that the number of players is going to become more.
You have now virtual network operators. In IoT, the guys who are providing applications for, say, smart transport will not be telcos. They will be some other entities who will be buying data from telcos. So, they will be using the telco’s pipes but at the end pipe, the last mile may not be telco’s but may be those entity’s. So the industry’s delivery structure changes. - Live Mint