Mobile phone use in India

View from India: ITU presence heralds mobile advances

Image credit: Vishnu Nishad | Unsplash

Prime minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the new International Telecommunication Union (ITU) area office and innovation centre in New Delhi on March 22. ITU is a specialised agency of the UN for information and communication technologies.

A confluence of factors have probably made India an ideal destination for the ITU office. With affordable smartphones and data, the country has more than a hundred crore mobile connections, making India the world’s most-connected democracy. The country’s digital inclusion brings a few aspects to mind. India has transferred more than 28 lakh crore (28tn) rupees to the bank accounts of its citizens via Direct Benefit Transfers (DBTs).

Modi has said that more than 800 crore digital payments are made every month in India through UPI (Unified Payment Interface). Over seven crore e-authentications take place in India every day and over 220 crore vaccine doses were administered using the Co-Win platform in India. [1 crore = 10 million]

“Telecom technology for India is not a mode of power, but a mission to empower,” said Modi during the inauguration. In 2014, the broadband connectivity had 60 million users; it is now beyond 800 million. The number of internet connections in India is more than 85 crores compared to 25 crores in 2014.

The prime minister has also launched a mobile app called CBuD, aka 'Call Before U Dig'. The app is designed to prevent damage to underlying assets such as optical fibre cables. Such incidents could happen due to uncoordinated digging and excavation and any damage can lead to huge losses, potentially amounting to around ₹3,000 crore every year in the country. The app connects excavators and asset owners through SMS/email notifications to ensure the safety of underground assets during excavations.

Particular mention also needs to be made of the country’s 5G rollout, arguably one of the world’s fastest rollouts. Its pace could be gauged by the fact that 5G services have been unveiled in over 125 cities in 120 days and that 5G services are within the reach of around 350 districts in the country. Even as 5G continues to proliferate, discussions are already being held for 6G.

At the event, a 6G test bed and the vision document related to this technology were unveiled. New employment opportunities for innovators, industries and start-ups could be generated as they unleash innovative solutions. They could leverage it to test and validate the evolving ICT technologies. Bharat 6G vision document is prepared by the Technology Innovation Group on 6G (TIG-6G) constituted in November 2021. Members from various ministries and government departments; research and development institutions; academia; standardisation bodies; telecom service providers, and industry have developed a roadmap and action plans for 6G in India.

Some statistics on the overall telecom scenario. Over the last nine years, the government and private sector have laid out 25 lakh km of optical fibre [1 lakh = 100,000]. Within this, the Internet usage in rural India has been on the rise. To illustrate, two lakh gram panchayats have been connected by optical fibre and five lakh common service centres are providing digital services leading to a situation where the digital economy is expanding two and half times faster than the rest of the economy. Gram panchayats 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 ITU was established in Paris in 1865 as the International Telegraph Union. It came to be known as the International Telecommunication Union in 1932. In 1947, the ITU became a specialised agency of the United Nations (UN) for information and communication technologies, headquartered in Geneva.

“India is a role model for countries looking for digital transformation to grow their economies, rethink their government services, attract investments, remake commerce and empower their people,” said Doreen-Bogdan Martin, secretary general of the ITU.

Last year, India entered into an agreement with the ITU to be its host country for the establishment of an area office. What could benchmark the area office is that it also includes an innovation centre. The area office is fully funded by India. The ITU area office will serve India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Afghanistan and Iran. Hopefully, this could encourage collaboration in the IT sector of South Asian countries.

“This decade is India's tech-ade. India's telecom and digital model is smooth, secure and transparent and all the friendly countries of South Asia can take advantage of this,” concluded Modi.

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