India is becoming a repository and producer of a large number of engineers, especially in the ICT areas. Our Government is taking many facilitating measures to make our country the preferred destination for the location of knowledge-based
Dr T H Chowdary
The most people-benefiting outcome of economic
liberalisation initiated by the late P V Narasimha Rao as Prime Minister is the telecom revolution. From long waiting periods of up to 10 years, high prices and poor services till the late 1990s, the telephone now is in everybody’s hand solely because of the end of government monopoly over the production of equipment and provision of services. When the National Telecom Policy (NTP) was first adopted in 1994, India had 10 million telephones; that is, a Teledensity of one phone for 100 people. Price for a year’s service averaged Rs 10,000 which was equal to the then per capita income of Rs. 10,000. Today, we have 118 Cr telephones; a teledensity of 87 phones for hundred people; 90 per cent of them are mobile phones. The average cost of having a year’s mobile phone service at Rs 3000 is 1/33 of our per capita income of Rs 100,000 per year. At Rs 250 per month, a month’s telephone service can be had for less than the daily wages of an unskilled mazdoor. That is the reason why we have the phenomenon of haath haath mein telephone; the slogan I raised and worked for as the Chief General Manager of Telecoms in Andhra Pradesh and as the Dy Director General of the Department of Telecoms and finally, as the Chairman & Managing Director of the Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd.
It is not only telephones that we have in abundance, we also have the Internet, the repository of all information and knowledge that is being created anywhere in the world, anytime. Of the 750 Cr population of the world, already over 60 per cent of them are having access to the Internet. In our country, over 25 per cent of our population is accessing the Internet and most of them through the mobile phone. There is a revolution even in the mobile phone device, it is multi-functional. Formerly it weighed 500 grams; it is now about 80 grams. It includes a camera, radio huge memory and computational power. Soon it will supersede the PC itself that is why today we find people asking to send SMS and not e-mail. The SMS can be read at anytime, anywhere in the world; while flying in the skies, riding on roads, sailing on seas. It is becoming smaller, more powerful, longer lasting, more processing and most importantly, ever cheaper just like the telephone service itself.
All this revolution in our country is part of the liberalisation of the economy and unleashing of the entrepreneurial and business spirit of our people. That was what P V Narasimha Rao wanted to unleash, entrepreneurship and an Indian vision that were caged by the sickening constraint of ill-conceived and bureaucratically implemented socialism.
We see the country with lakhs of cell towers. Just as electricity to our homes is not possible without the lamp posts that carry electrical wires and the electric substations, mobile telephony is not possible without numerous cell towers and the base stations. I am not a little sorry that ill-informed and misguided people go on objecting to the presence of cell towers. In fact, we need more and more cell towers for better and more reliable service at higher speeds without calls dropping in some areas.
Competition in the telecom sector in our country is most intense; in fact, it is hyper-competition. While most countries are having no more than three Telcos holding about 90 per cent of the market, our country has nearly a dozen Telcos. No doubt, intense competition between 2008 and 2010 saw the spectacular phenomenon of 18 mln telephones being added per month. The hyper-competition, especially with the entry of the resourceful R-Jio is causing concern in the market. Prices have come down. Incumbent Telcos are making losses.
Non-R-Jio Telcos are having a debt of Rs 3,50,000 Cr! Banks have downgraded Telcos for credit and loans. Telcos are asking for deferred payments due to the government.
Information is power. The old telecom system has been transformed into an electronic-photonic transportation system for transmission and storage and distribution of electronified information as in telephony, in video i.e pictures; text (i.e script) and data. The spread of the mobile communication network and our ability to access the millions of websites, which are storehouses of information, and data in electronic form is bringing a revolution in the way we learn, we work, we socialise, we govern and change the government itself. Humanity had long ago crossed the agricultural stage; had gone through the industrial stage; now we are entering an information or knowledge age. Everyone can have access to every type of information and education which enables him to convert the information into knowledge and enhance his ability to use that knowledge, to convert the raw resources which nature has given for eg. sunlight, into goods and services to make our life comfortable. In the information age, people communicate for work and commute for pleasure, as envisioned by the telecom visionaries working at the famed Bell Laboratories in Holmdel, New Jersey, United States.
India conceived the project initially called NOFN (National Optical Fibre Network) to extend broadband (10MBP and above) connectivity to the 250,000 village Panchayats and through them all over the 600,000 villages. It was going slowly; the NDA Government got it relooked, termed it Digital India and has given freedom to State governments to implement it in the most cost effective way but to national standards. A.P has taken the lead; its cost is a fraction of what it would have been, had it been left to central PSUs. All Digital India projects are funded from the Governments Universal Service Fund (total accumulation so far Rs 70,000 Cr), a 5 per cent levy on Telcos’ revenues.
India has taken to telecoms and information technology in a spectacular way. The world’s largest store of electronified information is here in India in the form of Aadhar. Now that we are progressing towards a digital and an information society, the accumulation of huge data and its mining and analysis and use for good governance, better economy and education; everything better is becoming possible. Linking the Aadhar and the permanent account number—PAN for income tax and the voter identity card will profoundly impact our life, work, economy and culture.
India is becoming a repository and producer of a large number of engineers, especially in the ICT areas. We need to improve the quality of our education and the quality of our professionals. This is a continuous process. Our governments are taking many facilitative measures to make India, the preferred destination for the location of knowledge-based businesses. Hyderabad city is already home to about 400, 000 ICT professionals and about three times more persons are engaged in supportive and facilitative services. Their tribe should increase.
(The writer is a former Chairman and MD, VSNL and presently Director of Center for Telecom Management and Studies)