The Indian telecom sector has witnessed tremendous growth over the past decade. Today, Indian telecom network is the second largest in the world after China. A liberal policy regime and involvement of private sector has played important role in transforming this sector.
The total number of telephones has increased from 206.83 million on 31st March, 2007 to 917.35 million on 30th November 2011 resulting in an increase in teledensity from 18.31% to 76.18% during this period. This has been possible due to phenomenal growth of wireless connections, which has reached 884.38 million connections at the end of November 2011 constituting 96.41% of the total telephones up from 80.29% at the end of March, 2007.
The liberalization efforts of the government are evident in the growing share of private sector in total telephone connections which has increased to 86% in November 2011 as against a meager 5% in 1999. Liberalisation has resulted in strong competition leading to substantial reduction in tariffs.
Although there has been rapid increase in the number of telephones, there has been relatively less penetrations in rural areas with 310.92 million telephones by the end of November, 2011 and teledensity of 37.02 % against 166.45% Urban teledensity. Besides huge gap between urban and rural teledensity, Broadband has lagged behind the growth of telephones in India.
Recognizing the potential of broadband services in growth of GDP and creation of an enabling environment for promoting knowledge based society, the government had announced broadband policy 2004. Several measures have since been taken to promote broadband in the country. As a result, there are 12.98 million broadband subscribers as on 31st October, 2011 and 19.69 million internet subscribers at the end of March, 2011.
Draft National Telecom Policy – 2011
The Draft National Telecom Policy 2011 proposes to provide stable, rationale and objective policy regime over next decade or so:
To make available secure, reliable and affordable voice telephony and high speed broadband services to every citizen in India with special focus on rural and remote areas.
To improve the broadband experience by enhancing the speed of delivery.
To make India a global hub of manufacturing for all electronic products including telecom equipment with substantial value addition within the country and safeguard security concerns of the nation.
For simplification and rationalisation of licensing regime, transparent system for allocation of spectrum and enable efficient usage of spectrum.
For discovery of price of spectrum through market related processes.
To achieve One Nation- Full Mobile Number Portability.
To enable free roaming throughout the country.
To harness full potential of mobile phones for enabling provision of citizen centric services related to education, health, employment, agriculture, entertainment, banking & insurance services, skill upgradation, vocational training etc.
To encourage indigenous manufacture of cost effective mobile devices.
The faster roll out of high speed and reliable broadband in rural and urban areas will enable decentralised governance, participative democracy and delivery of basic services such as health and education to every citizen of the country. The thrust on manufacturing will promote entrepreneurship, create more job opportunities, reduce imports and improve security. Efficient usage of scarce resources like spectrum will result in better quality of service to the customers at affordable cost.
The new policy regime will be beneficial to end consumers/citizens, Telecom Service Providers, Value Added Service Providers, Government and Manufacturers.
Policy is likely to be approved by the June, 2012.
National Optical Fiber Network
Government has approved a project for National Optical Fiber Network in October, 2011 for providing Broadband connectivity to all 2.5 lakh Gram Panchayats at a cost of Rs. 20,000 crore. The plan is to extend the existing optical fiber network up to Panchayats. The Network will be available to telecom service providers for providing various services to the citizens in non-discriminatory manner.
The Network will provide a highway for transmission of voice, data and video in rural areas. It will enable the broadband connectivity upto 2 Mbps, capable of providing various services like e-education, e-health, e-entertainment, e-commerce e- governance etc. to people and businesses. The people in rural areas, students, entrepreneurs, various Government Departments providing services under e-governance projects will be benefitted. It will also provide connectivity to various public institutions like Gram Panchayats, Primary Health Centres (PHCs), schools etc. in rural areas. It will also result in investment from the private sector both for providing different services and for manufacturing of broadband related telecom equipment.
The project will be funded by Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF). The project will be executed by a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) which will be a company incorporated under Indian Companies Act 1956 and initially will be fully owned by Central Government, with equity participation from Government and interested Central Public Sector Units (CPSUs) (BSNL, Railtel, Powergrid, GAILTEL, etc.) and action is being taken to establish and operationalize a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV).
Programmes Under USOF
The Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) was established with the fundamental objective of providing access to ‘Basic’ telegraph services to people in the rural and remote areas at affordable and reasonable prices. Subsequently the scope was widened to provide subsidy support for enabling access to all types of telegraph services including mobile services, broadband connectivity and creation of infrastructure like OFC in rural and remote areas. Various schemes for taking communication facilities to the rural and remote areas with the support of USO fund under implementation are –
5,79,814 villages i.e. about 97.68% of the Census 2001 inhabited revenue villages have been covered with Village Public Telephone (VPT) facility as on November 30, 2011. VPT facility is likely to be provided in remaining inhabited revenue villages by May, 2012.
Setting up and managing 7353 number of infrastructure towers in 500 districts spread over 27 states for provision of mobile services in specified rural and remote areas. 7295 towers i.e. 99.21% towers have been set up till November, 2011.
In order to provide broadband connectivity to the rural areas, USOF signed an agreement with BSNL on January 20, 2009 to provide 8,88,832 wire-line Broadband connections to individual users and Government Institutions and setting up of 28,672 Kiosks over a period of 5-years. As on 30th November, 2011, 3,35,290 broadband connections and 6426 kiosk have been provided under this scheme in rural and remote areas.
Another Scheme has been launched under USOF to provide sufficient back-haul capacity to integrate the voice and data traffic from the access network in the rural areas to their core network by strengthening the OFC network. This scheme considers OFC Network augmentation between the blocks’ HQ and Districts’ HQ to begin with. USOF, through this Scheme, shall provide subsidy support for augmentation, creation and management of intra-district SDHQ-DHQ OFC Network on the condition that it will be shared with other Telecom Operators at the rates prescribed in the Agreement. Assam has been taken up first for implementation.
Recognizing the vital role that Information Communication Technology (ICT) can play in the empowerment of rural women, a scheme called ‘Sanchar Shakti’ has been launched in March, 2011 for pilot projects aimed at facilitating access of Self Help Groups (SHGs) to ICT enabled services. Financial support from USO Fund is to be provided towards VAS subscription for SHGs in accordance with the provisions of underlying subsidy Agreements. At present MoUs have been signed for Proof of Concept (PoC) for 9 mobile VAS projects in the states of Tamilnadu, Kerala, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and the Union Territory of Puducherry.
The Indian Telecom sector has proved to be an international success story. The sector has witnessed a commendable growth over the past two years. With an overall subscriber base of 917.35 million and a teledensity of 76.18%, the sector continues to grow from strength to strength. With the urban teledensity reaching 166.54%, the market has been showing signs of maturity. Rural India is the key target market likely to drive the next round of growth, particularly for voice based services. 3G and BWA are expected to reinvigorate the maturing urban markets and help in bringing balanced growth of economy.
The aggressive growth observed by mobile services is yet to be replicated in case of broadband service, where the subscriber base currently stands at 13 million approximately . The successfully concluded auction of the BWA/3G spectrum and National Optical Fibre Network will enhance the wireless broadband penetration across the country and help connect the remotest locations across India. The government has a vision to provide secure, reliable and affordable telephone connection and broadband facilities on demand across the country with special focus on rural and remote areas as envisaged in National Telecom Policy 2011.
( Inputs from the Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications & IT.)