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View from India: Draft National Telecom Policy aims for digital sovereignty

The Department of Telecoms (DoT) has uploaded the draft of the National Telecom Policy (NTP) 2018 on its website on May 1, 2018 for public consultation.

NTP - also referred to as National Digital Communications Policy 2018 - aims to create four million additional jobs in the Digital Communications sector, as well as attracting investments of $100bn to the sector. Digital sovereignty is a dream to be fulfilled through the various initiatives of the policy.

With over a billion mobile phones and digital identities, plus half a billion internet users, India’s mobile data consumption is already the highest in the world. Over 200 million Indians regularly use social media and in the last year alone over 200 million Indians took to mobile banking and digital payments.

At the current pace of digitisation/digitalisation, the Policy estimates that India’s digital economy has the potential to reach $1trn by 2025. With the new policy in place, the contribution of the digital communications sector should be enhanced from 6 per cent in 2017 to 8 per cent of India’s gross domestic product (GDP). It should also propel India into the top 50 nations in the ICT (information, communication and technology) Development Index of International Telecommunication Union (ITU), up from 134th place in 2017.

One of the highlights of the NTP is its vision to harness the power of emerging digital technologies, including 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT), the Cloud and Big Data to enable the provision of future-ready products and services and to catalyse the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) by promoting investments, innovation and intellectual property rights (IPR). Industry 4.0 can be accelerated through a roadmap that facilitates this transition by 2020 by closely working with sector specific industry councils. In the process, a market will be developed for IoT and machine-to-machine (M2M) connectivity services in sectors such as agriculture, smart cities, intelligent transport networks, multimodal logistics, smart electricity meters and consumer durables, among others.

It’s also intended to optimise satellite communications (satcom) technologies in India by reviewing satcom policy for communication services, in tandem with the Department of Space. Of course, this will take into account the international developments and social and economic needs of the country, as well as the licensing and regulatory conditions that limit the use of satellite communications, such as speed barriers. Band allocation will be revised. In order to develop an ecosystem for satcoms in India, the thrust is to streamline the administrative processes for assignment and allocations, clearances and permissions related to satcom systems.

Digital inclusion will happen through a national digital grid that will bring the uncovered areas and digitally deprived segments of society into the mainstream. Connectivity for all uncovered areas in the north-eastern states, Himalayan region, left-wing extremism areas, islands and border areas is on the cards.

A 2022 goal is to achieve universal broadband access by establishing a ‘National Broadband Mission - Rashtriya Broadband Abhiyan’. The universal broadband coverage at 50Mbps should be made available to every citizen. Apart from that, all the Gram panchayats of India should be provided connectivity, to the par of 1Gbps by 2020 and 10Gbps by 2022. Gram panchayats, incidentally, are the local self-government institutions at the village level, whose head is the focal point of contact between government officers and the village community.

The intent is to maximise India’s contribution to the global value chain by focusing on domestic production, increasing exports and reducing the import burden. Taxes, levies and differential duties need to be rationalised in order to incentivise local manufacturing of equipment. Product segments along the telecom manufacturing chain need to be identified and a phased manufacturing program needs to be introduced to cater to the demand-supply scenario. One million employees will be trained to build a workforce to meet new requirements.

A complete domestic ecosystem needs to be put in place, whereby small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and entrepreneurs and big companies need to be encouraged to manufacture local products, which are on par with the global market.

Even better, if these products have globally recognised intellectual property rights (IPRs) in India. Design-led manufacturing in India requires a thrust and this can happen by leveraging indigenous software, along with R&D capabilities. This should lead to the creation of innovation led start-ups in the Digital Communications sector.

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