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World Telecom Day: How India developed itself as a major hub of telecommunication?

As the world celebrates World Telecommunication and Information Society Day today, also known as WTISD, it is useful to know about the journey of telecom expansion in India.

According to data released by the communications ministry, 4G in the country has a 99 per cent coverage footprint, covering over 6 lakh villages and around 4.42 lakh 5G BTSs.

The growth of the telecom industry in India can be classified into three parts, the first phase during the state-owned era till 1990, the second, 2000, which saw the entry of private players; And, the third phase from 2000 to 2010 and till date.

The state-owned Indian telecommunications sector began services with a manual telephone exchange in Kolkata in 1882. The telecom industry flourished only after the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) was separated from the Indian Department of Posts and Telecommunications in 1985.

DoT started functioning as a model agency for telecommunication services across the country by 1986. In subsequent years, the government created MTNL and VSNL for telecom operations in metro cities like Delhi and Mumbai.

Subsequently, MTNL and VSNL were separated from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to separate their policy functions and telecommunication operations and international long distance operations in metro cities like Mumbai and Delhi.

This gives rise to the second part of the telecom industry in India in which the government allows private players to enter the telecom industry. Cellular services were first launched in Kolkata in 1995.

Another milestone during this era was the formation of telecom regulator TRAI in 1997. TRAI was formed to regulate a fair environment between operators and customers.

In 2000, TDSAT was formed to settle disputes between operators, between operators and the government, and between operators and customers.

After March 2000, the government became more liberal and issued more licenses with lower license fees. This begins the third phase of the telecommunications industry, which has been surrounded by controversies. Ultimately the Supreme Court canceled 122 telecom licenses.

But the third phase of the telecom sector witnessed unprecedented growth as 2G revolutionized the telecom market in 2005 and the number of mobile connections increased significantly. The government increased the foreign direct investment (FDI) limit in the telecom sector from 49% to 74% in the same year.

Another significant revolution came in 2008 and 2012 when 3G and 2G services were launched respectively. It brought mobile advertising, mobile commerce, video calling, streaming, full movie downloads, live TV and multi-player gaming to small mobile phone screens.

After 2G, 3G and 4G, now 5G has arrived in the country and India has become the world leader in adopting 5G. The country is now preparing for 6G wireless broadband technology, with commercial deployment expected around 2030.

Commenting on the day, Lt Gen Dr SP Kochhar, Director General of COAL, said, “Despite higher power consumption due to network density requirements, both 5G and the future 6G are set to bring better energy efficiency to networks. Indian telecom companies are increasingly adopting green telecom networks, which focus on energy-efficient operations, reduction of carbon emissions and use of renewable energy sources.

Anku Jain, MD, MediaTek India, said, “India has demonstrated a strong focus on innovation, possibilities and inclusive growth in its telecom journey from 5G adoption to technological breakthroughs.”

With the rapid growth of telecom subscribers, India has now become a manufacturing hub for mobile phones. Samsung has set up the world’s largest mobile manufacturing unit in India while Apple has set up the world’s second largest unit in India. “India is at the cusp of the digital revolution with its leadership in adopting AI and also taking the right steps to establish its 6G leadership,” says Tarun Chhabra, Country Manager, Nokia India.

There is still a long way to go with AI and innovations coming to India’s telecom sector.

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