Friendly Rivalry Aruna Sundararajan admits consolidation and data are triggering cut-throat competition, but calls for some collaboration

Admitting that the telecom industry is going through a tough phase, with consolidation driven by fierce competition and rise of data over voice, Aruna Sundararajan, secretary, ministry of electronics and information technology, said the government is open to “tweaking and refining“ its policies to “address challenges“.

Sundararajan was speaking at the Economic Times India Mobile Congress in New Delhi on Friday.

“We do recognise that the telecom industry is facing a set of challenges -there is a consolidation happening due to the fiercely competitive environment and data is becoming the new currency,“ said Sundararajan, adding one needs to ensure that the existing players continue to grow without shutting the door on new technologies.

She requested the players to compete, but at the same time collaborate with each other. “That's the name of the game. Despite the fact that there are 110 crore mobiles in India, there is large enough room for everyone to grow.“

While addressing a panel discussion on new business drivers and challengers, P Balaji, director regulatory, external affairs & CSR, Vodafone India, said that a lot of growth is yet to take place and there has to be a good “balance“ between new services and existing ones.

“There has to be a good balance for consumers to have new services and the industry to continue to invest in things which will have shareholder return,“ he said.

Congratulating the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) for coming out with a paper on the ease of doing business, Sundarara jan said that her ministry would also like to discuss with the telecom industry on how to enable the ease of doing business in manufacturing. “We have to manufacture not just for India but for the global markets as well,“ she said.

Driving home the point that the country needs to solve the connectivity challenge, Sundararajan said that India has only 30,000-32,000 WiFi hotspots when there's a need for 8 million such hotspots in the country. “Government policies ha ve to be tailored to enable large number of WiFi hotspots. We will look forward to the industry's inputs,“ she said.

ET had reported in January that the government is embarking on a project to provide free WiFi hotspots at more than 1,000 gram panchayats to provide last-mile connectivity in far-flung areas, which is seen as the biggest impediment towards a digital economy.

Apart from providing internet connectivity for mass use, the programme seeks to enable delivery of services such as health and education. Called Digital Village, the pilot project will initially be rolled out in as many as 1,050 gram panchayats.

Sundararajan also said that the key driver of adoption of Internet in the country will be the local language content. The ministry of IT is working on a project to enable mobile application incubators and around 12 of them will be coming up over the next 12 months.

Talking about the “disruption“ which has been caused by the November 8 demonitisation exercise and the move towards the digital economy thereafter, Sundararajan said that there's no other industry other than telecom which touches a billion lives, and therefore it is best suited to take forward the digital agenda. - TOI


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