COAI's Director General Talks About Opportunities and Challenges for India's Telecom Sector in 2019

Release Date:2019-01-23  Author:Reporter: Sun Dong  Click:


Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) plays an important role in the development of India's mobile industry. In October, it hosted the second India Mobile Congress 2018 (IMC 2018), India's biggest mobile and technology event, in collaboration with the Department of Telecommunications (DoT). In a post-IMC interview with ZTE Technologies, Rajan S Mathews, Director General of COAI, talked about hot topics at the IMC 2018, and opportunities and challenges facing India's telecom sector in 2019.

What are the top three issues shaping India's mobile market?

a. IOT; b. 5G; c. Mandatory Testing of Telecom Equipment in India

How is COAI driving the development of the mobile industry in India?

COAI has been a major player in leading the various assignments related to regulatory and policy interests of COAI members in this highly regulated sector, for the organization as a whole, involving management of relations with external stakeholders such as government bodies, policy makers, facilitating regulatory compliance across all functions, managing the media, and defining the public policy strategy to maintain a consistent image of the organization. COAI has today expanded to be a thought leader in the telecom and broadband industry, with members including cellular service providers, telecom infrastructure players, and telecom equipment manufacturers. COAI has dedicated itself towards the training of skilled manpower to ensure efficient and optimum utilization of human resources to the industry. Many major policy outcomes from the Government have been due to concerted efforts of COAI in aligning the views of members along with the Government and related stakeholders.

What achievement are you most proud of as Director General of COAI?

COAI has been instrumental in getting many favourable policy outcomes from the Government of India. One such recent achievement is the issuance of the NDCP-2018 which captures many forward-looking policy statements for the industry. The recent NFAP which is based on major inputs provided by COAI has identified additional bands for IMT to be aligned with the globally harmonized bands.
COAI is also working aggressively towards Digital India mission. In a path breaking initiative, COAI along with Government of India launched the TarangSanchar Portal. It is a complete online, standardized, common platform which enables anyone to view, understand and obtain information on the Electro Magnetic Field (EMF) emission levels of all 20 Lakh Base Transceiver Stations (BTSs) of any technology (2G, 3G, and 4G) located at approx. 5 lakh mobile towers across India. This data base is unparalleled in the world with complete technical details.

COAI has dedicated itself towards the training of skilled manpower to ensure efficient and optimum utilization of human resources to the industry. COAI has played a major role in the setting up and operations of the Telecom Sector Skill Council (TSSC) in India under the aegis of the National Skills Development Corporation (NSDC). COAI also played a major role in setting up the Telecom Centers of Excellence (TCOE) set up in Public Private Partnership (PPP) mode, with the Government, the Academia and the Industry working together for the sustained growth and progress of the country. COAI was instrumental in the formation of the Telecommunications Standards Development Society, India (TSDSI), which aims at developing and promoting India-specific requirements, standardizing solutions for meeting these requirements and contributing these to international standards.

What are the hot topics discussed at IMC? Why are these a priority?

Following are some of the hot topics which were discussed at IMC:

With voice being offered for free, while the data rates are at rock bottom level (data realization at 1.1 paisa per MB), the ARPU of the TSPs continues to be depressed at Rs. 69. TSPs are looking at new business models and opportunities to increase their revenue and ARPU levels. Some of these are:

1. IoT/M2M — These services are already being provided by the TSPs, however with new DoT Guidelines on KYC for M2M, implementation of 13 Digit for M2M SIMs and Government allowing use of embedded SIMs, telecom Industry sees opportunity to increase their revenue levels through M2M/IoT.

2. Smart Cities — With the Government initiative of developing 100 SMART cities in the country there lies great opportunity for the Telcos. The majority of smart city programmes deployed in 2017-18 so far include partnerships between telecommunication companies with cities, governments, utilities and IoT solution providers.

3. AgriTech — Agriculture is now a sector with great potential of triggering growth. The AgriTech sector is witnessing a number of startups in India. Telcos are playing major role in this regard with the other system integrators. 

4. Artificial Intelligence — With the Government’s growing interest around AI applications in India, there has seen a significant growth in interest levels around AI across all industries sectors in India. It has been seen that industries have started working to skill their manpower to enable themselves to compete with other global players.

5. AR/VR — It is being discussed that TSPs will also start using VR technologies to reinforce their customer experience. For example, a telecom company could use Virtual Reality to demonstrate its new product/service to customers. 

6. Spectrum Next Generation Technologies(5G) — The Government envisages positioning India as globally synchronized participant in the design, development and manufacturing of 5G based technologies, products and applications. Several Committees have been formed by DoT for early adoption of 5G technologies.

7. Ensuring futuristic network — In order to retain their subscribers, operators are continually investing to upgrade their networks with new technologies, hence more and more discussions in the applicability and adoption of new and futuristic technologies.

8. Data Privacy and Protection — With the issuance of Srikrishna report on Data Privacy and Protection, Data Ownership, Security, Privacy, Protection and Localisation has become a hot topic across the industry among the TSPs as well as the content providers, solution providers and OTT players.

9. BlockChain in telecom — With the first of the kind in the world, TRAI vide its Regulation on Unsolicited Commercial Communication (UCC) asked the TSPs to implement Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) (Blockchain) to address the UCC related issues. Such use of Blockchain in the telecom sector has made the solution providers such as IBM, Tech Mahindra, Tanla, Blockcube, Simplify etc. along with the TSPs very much interested in such technology.

What do you believe are the biggest opportunities for mobile operators in 2019, and what must be done to make the most of them?

IoT/M2M, Smart Cities, Blockchain, Digital Payments (Payment Banks & Mobile Wallets such as Airtel Money, Jio Money, MPesa), In Flight Connectivity communications etc. present some of the immediate short term opportunities for mobile operators in 2019. Indian TSPs are already active in this space and displayed their products, such as connected car, connected fridge and connected home at the IMC 2018.   

What challenges do you expect the industry to face in 2019, and how can these be addressed?

The telecom sector is currently facing burgeoning debt, falling revenue and constrained margins leave no room for further investments. The Government has set the tone of a progressive policy framework with the National Digital Communication Policy 2018. The policy lays emphasis on enhancing financial health of the sector. However, the challenges to be dealt with are:
  • Spectrum pricing and future roadmap
  • Redefine adjusted gross revenue (AGR)
  • Bring down levies such as spectrum usage charge (SUC) and licence fee (LF)
  • Reduce the tax burden
  • Lowering cost of backhaul connectivity
  • Development of start-up ecosystem
  • Favourable device and component manufacturing 
  • Robust cyber and data security framework
  • Bridging skill gap
  • Data privacy
  • Public private partnership (PPP) models for roll out of shared infrastructure.

How would you like ZTE contribute to the cellular development in India in the future?

Areas in which ZTE should contribute:

a. 5G trials: co-ordination with COAI TSP members

b. Participation in development of telecom standards for next generation technologies. This may be done through the Indian Friends of 3GPP (IF3) platform at COAI

c. Contribution to Make in India Initiatives of the Government

d. Getting global expertise to India for discussion on equipment related issues.

[Keywords] India, COAI


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