Appropriate policies will increase connectivity much more than spectrum auctions.
Shyam Ponappa | September 1, 2016
There's a "List of 10 Things" for realising India's potential that Prime Minister Narendra Modi received as the chief minister of Gujarat from Jim O'Neill, the originator of the "BRIC" concept. Many items on that list are greatly facilitated by information and communications technology (ICT): effective governance; primary, secondary, and tertiary education; improved infrastructure; and sustainable approaches that minimise negative environmental impact. While there's agreement on ICT's importance for India, there's difficulty getting it in place to best effect. This is because policy changes are needed to make Digital India a reality. These are the kinds of decisions that will turn the rhetoric about connectivity into reality.
Some changes are relatively easy, such as enabling 60 GHz Wi-Fi, while others require more effort, as explained below. These include better terms for satellite communications, enabling broadband on the 500-600 MHz bands, and spectrum and network sharing.
In our land of such range and contradictions, so much needs improvement that everything clamours for immediate attention. Attempts to address them all together are misplaced, however, because achieving results requires goal orientation, prioritisation and systematic action, to direct a convergent investment of time, effort and capital. Also, projects must be done with the realisation that the acid test is end-to-end delivery, even if it is initially to a small segment of the market. Only then can the rest of the iceberg be addressed: consistent, ongoing operation and maintenance, and scaling up. Think of the years of effort, capital and human resources invested without that first delivery in the National Optic Fibre Network. While defining objectives appropriately and setting priorities are difficult, both are imperative.
A recent report on The Networked Society City Index for 2016 by Ericsson reaffirms ICT's critical role in productivity and living standards.1 The report also shows that better-developed cities are on more sustainable paths to the goal of the desirable triple bottom line (TBL) of social, economic and environmental betterment. ICT facilitates not only sustainable development of cities and often their surroundings, but extends through the networked society far beyond their geographical environs. Even our metros need attention, with Mumbai and Delhi ranking at 36 and 38 out of 41.
The Wireless Imperative
The clusters are around major cities, with broadband penetration in Delhi/NCR highest at 58.2 per cent. Except along their major connecting links, the spaces between clusters are more difficult to connect and aggregate, as habitations are not densely clustered. Also, potential revenues are generally lower in less dense areas. Such areas urgently need lower-cost wireless coverage.
Policy Changes Required - from Easy to Difficult
Of the many constraints to building more accessible ICT in India, a major set lies within the control of government and stakeholders, provided they act together and are not adversarial about policies governing access technologies:
Shyam (no space) Ponappa at gmail dot com
1. "Networked Society City Index 2016", www.ericsson.com
2. T V Ramachandran. "Satellite communication can drive the broadband revolution", Business Standard, 23 April 2016