Rajan S. Mathews, Director General, Cellular Operators Association of India, COAI
Technology is unique in its ability to continuously evolve in order to remove barriers, enabling an individual, society, and even a country to evolve much faster than without it – technology enables positive transformation. As requirements have evolved, technologies have also evolved to fulfil those requirements, and vice versa. Mobile telephony services came to the country with the liberalization of the 90s and since then India's GDP per capita growth rate has been spectacular, especially when compared to the sub 1 percent growth rates of the three decades before. It is estimated that for every 10 percent penetration of mobile services, at the time, GDP per capita growth rate increased by more than one percent. Access to basic communications enabled access to information, markets, and therefore better livelihoods – fulfilling requirements and significantly impacting the economy.
The next decade of communications technology was about data. With the advent of more efficient technologies like 3G and 4G, mobile phone users are able to access a much larger library, and far more in-depth information. Video tutorials, instructional knowledge, weather, and even on-demand market data, further remove constraints, while creating more, and significantly improving economic growth. It is estimated that for a given level of mobile penetration, a 10 percent substitution from 2G to 3G increases GDP per capita growth by 0.15 percentage points. Similarly, doubling of data use leads to an increase in GDP per capita growth rate of 0.5 percentage points.A further 10 percent increase in Internet penetration increases total factor productivity in the long run by 4.2 percentage points.
As needs or requirements evolve, so will communication technologies, so the next decade will be about virtuality – especially when it comes to key areas like education and health. With increased efficiency of data-based technologies, concepts like IoT and M2M communications will become more pervasive – be it the need for more comfort or efficiency in operations like logistics and warehousing. We are now seeing household appliances like door-locks, thermostats, televisions, lighting, cameras, and speakers being controlled using smartphones. We are also seeing entire warehouses and distribution chains being controlled by handheld wireless devices.
M2M, that forms the basis for IoT, is already in use enabling businesses to better manage warehouses, where it can regulate temperature and track inventory; logistics to monitor transport vehicles; or even utility meters to measure usage and minimize room for fraud.
At a macro level, the transformation can be best described in the form of a movement to fulfil different requirements. The evolution of technology is not just changing the lifestyle of a user or the functioning of a business – even the providers are transforming themselves with the evolved business model. Soon, what is now a telecom service provider could potentially turn into a digital services provider providing services across sectors including banking and finance for digital payments, education and healthcare, to name a few. Operations like customer services will adapt to be able to provide real-time problem solving capabilities using artificial intelligence. The systems will be able to anticipate problems and provide solutions. Just by listening to customers through an engagement strategy and data analysis, using quality of experience solutions, the system would improve services by itself.
But all of this is not possible if the telecom sector does not have the space or capital to evolve and expand. The Indian telecom sector with a cumulative debt of 4.6 lakh crores on revenues of less than half this and an increasing inability to service this debt, will find it difficult to procure and install equipment needed to start providing the next evolution of technology. More and more requirements will get created, but remain unfulfilled.
Communications or network technologies have been the means for mankind's evolution in the 21st century, and the result of it as well. And for India, the telecom sector is at the center of this evolution. Mobile connectivity and data services have played a pivotal role in bridging the digital divide and moving India toward a truly equitable and democratic nation. The telecom industry, therefore, deserves an urgent and immediate intervention to encourage policy and regulatory stability, and facilitate growth, innovation, and investment.
The industry remains committed toward working for a fully connected and digitally empowered India and furthering the Hon Prime Minister's vision.