Herald the 'Telecom-Plus' era
The brand new National Telecom Policy 2018 must prepare the threshold to catapult India into the digitally-equipped future.
The National Telecom Policy (NTP) 2018 is on the anvil. There has been an immense number of deliberations – and opinions sought from the ecosystem, including the industry and the regulator – about what NTP 2018 should look like. It is expected that the Department of Telecom will incorporate most of the enabling and constructive suggestions it receives.
There could have been no better time than this for a new telecom policy. As we usher in a new, digitally-led India, telecom has a vital role to play. Hence, the policy merits an overhaul – not only in content and scope but also in outlook. Telecom is no longer a vertical or a sector or a segment. It has, within a matter of three to five years, lost its tall, vertical structure to achieve a leaner, horizontal orientation. It is now present in every industry and sector.
First, it was an add-on to the resources and infrastructure over which an organisation is consequently built. Now, it has taken precedence and is the first layer of infrastructure over which other layers are used to reinforce the strength of an organisation or enterprise, equipping it with all the requisite capabilities that are essential to contribute in a digital era. From an individual's point of view, telecom has become the lifeline not only of communication but of all sorts of information and services. The trend is only going to become distinct as millennials grow and take charge of the nation.
For the government, telecom is a ray of hope. India's evolution after independence has been marked by different development patterns and paths – and has resulted in inequalities, a consequence also of scarce resources and diverse requirements. Now, with digital platforms, the government is looking at harmonising the growth between the urban metros and the rural pockets. While harmonisation of physical infrastructure would take decades, digital enablement would at least arrest the information – and hence, opportunity – the imbalances that typically arise out of a metro city and a rural village.
Over the years, the best achievement of the government has been in spreading awareness about the importance of going digital. Citizens across the country today understand how a digital world can reshape their lives. There is also an understanding of how the digital aspect can be integrated with traditional economic activities, thereby resulting in higher earnings and improved standards of living. Similarly, citizens are also aware of the social engineering that can be designed over digital platforms, by providing access to healthcare and education. Given this background, the NTP 2018 has to essentially "weave" telecom networks into the socio-economic profile of the country. This entails not viewing telecom in isolation. Rather, it means understanding how telecom can result in "value-added integration" in other sectors – socio as well as economic.
NTP 2018 should set the cornerstone for a "Telecom-Plus" era. With Smart Living, Industrial 4.0, Digital Economy, Connected World, e-Businesses, e-Governance and several such technology-led concepts poised to result in paradigm shifts in strategy, implementation, execution and measurement; telecom is not only going to be pivotal but also the focal point of the digital ecosystem. The success and efficacy of all such concepts will only be determined by how strongly telecom is integrated with every other sector and segment. For instance, digital healthcare will only achieve the desired goals if telecom is deeply integrated into healthcare. Similarly, transport, governance, education, commerce, finance, agriculture and every such industry and sector has to have a very deep integration with telecom. This is what erases the boundaries of telecom and spreads its impact and influence across every other sector.
The NTP 2018 has to position itself as the umbrella vision document that sets the stage for India to enter into a digital world. This won't happen if the policy only addresses telecom, which is a given thing. The success of the policy would rather be determined by how effectively telecom is horizontalised so that each sector embraces its power in its core, creating a lot many use cases for the industry and benefits for the citizens—as well as the government.
(The author is Head - New Initiatives at CyberMedia Research. The views expressed are strictly personal.)