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DIRECTOR GENERAL’S REPORT

“In the face of adversity, we have a choice. We can be bitter, or we can be better.” ― Caryn Sullivan

The telecom industry has truly worked far more than what has been envisioned in this quote by not only becoming better but proving to be a survivor for many during the pandemic. It aided all kinds of digital tools including video-conferencing, cloud computing, electronic payments, e-learning, tele-medicine, online shopping, entertainment, etc.

The industry assured the citizens, customers and the Government that despite the precarious financial health it were ready to do everything in its power to ensure that the networks continued to function as a vibrant, essential component of the economy and its health and well-being during the nationwide lockdown.

Telecom infrastructure helped sustain businesses, provide information, connect people and allay fears. If there was no virtual connectivity providing real-time information, citizens would suffer from anxiety and fear. Telecom helps people combat the disease at a social level through enhanced awareness. All the communication on social media is, virtually, real-time, which is possible only because of this telecom infrastructure. It also helps deal with boredom. For millions who are not used to staying at home, it makes the confinement a lot more easier. And businesses benefit the most, for it helps them continue their operations, both domestically and internationally, even when physical interactions are not possible. Since the unavoidable lockdown due to covid-19 pandemic, it is only telecom which is keeping the economic engines on. Not just economy, but even the social sectors like health and education are alive by leveraging the power of the enabling nature of telecommunications.

Last year was also a landmark year as it marked twenty five years of mobility in India. It is also noteworthy that the same year once again established the importance and relevance of the sector in our lives. It is the only sector which kept people active socially, economically and politically and kept us all going through the adversity. The sector proved that it is the key enabler of not only connectivity but also productivity to keep the country progressing due to the disruption caused by the pandemic. It is important to appreciate the efforts of all involved in the sector, especially the front line workers/ telecom warriors who have made this possible.

The sector, despite the challenges of limited resources, paucity of fiber and backhaul, made all efforts to offer the best possible quality of service to their customers through use of prudent traffic management techniques. Our members initiated variety of measures to improve the customer experiences by offering them cost effective tools to attract the customers who are working from home. As a result, now several IT companies in India are anticipating having work from home policy for their employees even post lockdown, which will change the entire perspective of companies and their preferences from telecom sector.

It is important to appreciate the help that the sector has been receiving from the Government Departments, especially which enabled the sector to successfully manage to provide service to the users, in such a difficult phase. Whether it was allowing movement to telecom personnel or recognizing them as telecom warriors and prioritizing vaccine for them, the Government has shown their full support. Telecom service providers have invested and will continue to invest significantly in the telecom infrastructure (capex and opex) and with enabling policies from the Government, the sector will prove to be the health and wealth of the nation.

STATUS ON POLICY AND REGULATORY ISSUES

The industry witnessed the biggest 4G spectrum auction in March 2021. This will enable the industry to cater to the exponential increase data usage and continue supporting the Digital India vision. This year, the immediate goal is to strengthen the telecom infrastructure further to help people continue getting digital access. To create such infrastructure, huge investments are required by the TSPs. For the TSPs to generate capital expenditure it either needs to generate sufficient profits which can be ploughed back to the business or it needs to be attractive enough to attract funds, be it in form of equity or debt. Hence, it is vital to ensure that the telecom industry remains financially strong. We hope the Government will take additional measures to boost the financial health of the industry, which is the backbone of a digitally connected India.

The year witnessed Government taking actions on many aspects of the National Digital Communications Policy 2018, especially on the aspects of ease of doing business and digitization of processes. The focus of the Government as well as the Regulator was more on providing ease to the customers, which was clearly reflective in the way issues like digital KYC and non-payment disconnections were handled. The focus of the Regulator is also on meeting the targets on NDCP-2018 and various consultations including enhancing Broadband and consumer centric issues were held this year and very positive recommendations have been submitted to the Government for acceptance.

The Right of Way Rules, 2016, are certainly a progressive and forward-looking step to achieve the Digital India vision. RoW Policies of 14 additional States/UTs were notified in alignment with RoW Rules, 2016 during 2020-2021. Till date, 29 States/UTs have aligned their Telecom Infrastructure policy with RoW Rules, 2016 that has streamlined hassle-free Right of Way processes. 5 States/UTs made their Single Window Online Portal operational during 2020-2021 namely Assam, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Punjab and West Bengal. Till date 11 States/UTs have made their Online Single Window Portal Operational that is facilitating speedy roll-out of the Telecom Infrastructure. On request of COAI, DoT issued letter to all LSAs to organize EMF Awareness Sessions with support of COAI (Eminent Doctor and Lawyer). 21 EMF Awareness Sessions/Webinars held, EMF Awareness Radio Show organized on AIR FM and 2 EMF Awareness TV shows organized on Doordarshan. The DoT and the State Governments have also extended a helping hand to the industry by allowing free movement of telecom staff during the lockdowns and also prioritizing vaccines for them.

There was also some misinformation being spread linking 5G testing with the COVID. COAI led a campaign to demystify this misinformation. On COAI’s submission to Secy.(T), DoT; LSA Heads & Ministry of Health; DoT Secretary wrote to Chief Secretaries of the States/UTs to actively communicate/informative video circulation to the public debunking the myth, which received support from the State Governments. UP Police & Gujarat Police heads had also issued orders in the support of the telecom industry for action to be taken against miscreants spreading myths.

Going forward, apart from network expansion, the focus will also be on 5G. 5G will transform the network experience of consumers by delivering ultrafast speed and ultralow latency. At the same time, 5G will also boost Internet of Things (IoT) by facilitating massive machine-type communication. The Government has announced that the next round of auction will include 5G spectrum. We are thankful to the Government for clearing 5G trials applications of our member operators.

 

It is important that adequate spectrum is made available for 5G. There are various other stakeholders demanding spectrum in these bands. It is essential that complete 5G spectrum is made available at the earliest so that real benefits of 5G are realized once the spectrum is auctioned and commercial deployments take place. It is also important to adopt a long term perspective w.r.t spectrum pricing i.e. have long term benefits in mind rather than short term benefits in terms of generating revenue from auction. Set modest reserve prices (Current reserve price of spectrum is one of the highest compared to the auction price of the other countries) and needs to be rationalized taking into account per capita income and reserve price benchmarks of other countries.

 

While India is consuming very large amount of data per capita in various industry verticals, there is a need to convert the data produced into useful services through the development of use cases. The Digital Readiness Index of various sectors can be monitored by a cross sectoral entity for eg: NITI Ayog. This will facilitate the monitoring of digital transformation in various sectors and thereby facilitate the development of use cases for development of digital services in the more digitized sectors. The combination of this with the India’s IT stack will help 5G based technologies build efficiencies in the various sectors and benefit the country.

 

Another important pre-requisite for wide spread of 5G is fiberization. Growth of fibre is the foremost priority for the ongoing exponential increase in data demand and improved quality of services. Fiberization will surely meet the present requirement of bandwidth and future technologies such as 5G, emerging technologies etc. For 5G, it is important to make existing and new municipal infrastructure (for e.g. street furniture/ open spaces etc.) available for site densification (small cell deployments/ telecom infrastructure installation).

 

Apart from this, early allocation of E & V bands to meet the backhaul requirements is also a pending request of the industry which is being considered by the Government. The V-band and E-band are extremely valuable resources for India for 5G as well as backhaul for mobile broadband, which will enable millions of homes to access high speed broadband for entertainment, education and work. As India aspires to take a leadership position in 5G, the existing and long term availability of spectrum that can be used for carrier grade services for 1.3 billion Indians will be crucial.

 

We expect that in the coming year, the focus will be on advancements in telecom to enhance customer experience. Propelled by the disruptions created by the pandemic as well as disruptive digital technologies, the telecom industry is all geared up for innovations and experiments in the coming year. From Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to 5G, cloud computing, and IoT, adoption of cutting-edge solutions to improve operations as well as enhancement of the customer experience will be on the forefront. The coming year indicates new challenges, but also paves the way for new solutions.

 

Adoption of new technologies will also require re-skilling of the current workforce for integration with relevant existing skilling initiatives, building of new platforms that can enable improved learning, and novel methods of allowing large scale employment generation through promotion of AI. The future of work will require two types of changes across the workforce: upskilling, in which staff gain new skills to help in their current roles, and reskilling, in which staff need the capabilities to take on different or entirely new roles. Machine learning technologies can help training and collaboration systems evolve to match the changing needs of workers. Artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies offer the promise of game-changing talent strategies that meet the needs of businesses and their people today and also prepare them for tomorrow. By adopting new skilling approaches, leading organizations can support today’s workforce needs, while evolving to meet the new opportunities ahead.

 

COAI and its member operators will continue their focus on building the new age digital infrastructure to support the nation and providing value to their customers, advocating for a stable, long term, sustainable, policy and regulatory environment which will promote innovation and orderly growth for a fully connected and digitally empowered India delivered through a financially strong and viable industry. We also look forward to continuing our partnership with the Government and Regulator to achieve the above vision.

OTHER ACTIVITIES OF THE ASSOCIATION

COAI along with DoT organized the fourth edition – India Mobile Congress 2020. Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, this edition of India Mobile Congress was an entirely virtual event, scheduled from 08th December through 10th December 2020, with the theme "Inclusive Innovation - Smart, Secure, Sustainable". It was the largest such event in the country.

The event was inaugurated by the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi and attended by various esteemed Government and industry leaders. The event took place under the active support, guidance, and leadership of Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad, Hon’ble Minister of Communications, Law and Justice and Electronics and Information Technology and actively supported by Shri Anshu Prakash, Secretary, DoT and Chairperson of the Digital Communication Commission as well as with the support of several other Government Ministries.

 

IMC 2020 saw the participation of telecom giants, OEMs, system integrators, technology experts, industry analysts, Government officials, young professionals, start-ups, and students. The focus area for IMC 2020 was 5G and emerging technologies with more than 72 hours of pseudo-live content streamed over three days.

 

COAI and India Mobile Congress with DoT also commemorated a memorable milestone of 25 Years of Mobile Telephony in India with a special webinar series “Desh Ki Digital Udaan”. The event witnessed key messages from the Hon’ble Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, and the Hon’ble Minister for Communications, Electronics & Information Technology and Law & Justice, Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad. The webinar series hosted five episodes with different themes, which saw participation from various industry stalwarts.

 

To keep pace with the current situation of the Covid-19 pandemic and following the social distancing norms, COAI organized various webinars to discuss the changing world of telecom during these critical times and on upcoming technologies.

To keep pace with the growing ecosystem and to represent the whole gamut of the communications industry, COAI continued to expand its Associate Membership by inducting new members such as Quadrant Televentures Ltd., Red Hat India Pvt. Ltd., Tata Teleservices Ltd. and UTStarcom India Telecom Pvt. Ltd.

The COAI Executive Council headed by Chairman, Mr. Ajai Puri, Vice Chairman, Mr. P.K. Mittal and comprising senior representatives from all member operators, met several times over the last year to deliberate on a variety of issues impacting the telecom industry. They were ably assisted by proficient advice from the various Working Committees that have been set up in COAI.

I also want to express my deep appreciation to all the Committees and Working Groups and their Chairmen and Vice Chairmen for their unstinted support and cooperation. We are grateful to you all for taking time out of your busy schedules to contribute towards various industry issues and helping the Association in representing them in a proficient and timely manner.

I would like to thank the Chairman, Mr. Ajai Puri, and the Vice Chairman, Mr. P.K. Mittal, for their personal involvement and support in all the activities and initiatives of the Association for the last year, especially in the face of the many challenges faced by the entire industry during the year. Their vigor and contribution has helped us in taking the Association to the next level and I would like to personally thank them for their time and resources to provide personal support and guidance to the Association. We request their continued support and guidance in future as well.

Last but not the least, I would like to record my deep gratitude to the COAI Secretariat team which has always provided excellent support and assistance in all our endeavours. I appreciate their willingness and dedication in taking up new projects and contributing successfully towards it. I deeply appreciate all of their efforts in contributing significantly to all the achievements of COAI during these tough times.

 

Lt Gen Dr. SP Kochhar,
Director General