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The future of telecom in India

By SiliconIndia   |   Friday, 13 May 2011, 07:56 Hrs
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Bangalore: As an essential pillar for speedy augmentation of various industries, telecommunication can indicate our overall socio-economic development. Today, telecom is the catalyst of growth and expansion much beyond simply IT/ITES, e-Commerce and BPO. The transition, reforms and transformations that Indian telecom has witnessed are colossal with doubling, quadrupling figures. Current growth is unparalleled but whether the trend will continue and at what pace may not be pretty basic to answer.

The Indian telecommunications industry is the second largest and yet the fastest growing in the world. As released by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), the number of telephone subscriber base in the country reached 723 million in September 2010 at a growth rate of 2.39%; teledensity reaches 60.99 and the broadband subscription 10.29 million at 2.08% growth rate. Liberal Government policies that ensure simple & easy access to service providers and affordability to the consumers have been momentous in the current penetration levels. Nevertheless, the rural teledensity is only basic even at the falling average revenue per user (ARPU) and declining tariffs. Telecom companies are still profitable and are expanding their networks largely. India remains among the top most wanted destination for the telecom magnates today.

New entrants and services in Indian telecom market have been attracting massive investments lately influencing the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) strongly. Recently, the Government approved the FDI proposal of Federal Agency for State Property Management of the Russian Federation to buy 20 per cent stake in telecom service provider Sistema Shyam Telecom Limited (SSTL). Also, Broadband Wireless Access (BSA) network expansion and developments in 3G subscriber base has about doubled the total investment in current fiscal year as compared to the last year. Progress such as this is communicable as is evident from the employment opportunities that follow the service & coverage expansion. Distance education, for example, is getting common now and remote diagnosis, disease monitoring, health awareness communication and treatment of patients through mobile phones will soon be as real. Again, the butterfly effect is not limited to tier-I cities or near future only due to the wealth creation enabled by the growing telecom infrastructure in B and C circles. Telecom could well be the single largest constituent of the India’s GDP in next few years. So at the same rate of growth one would expect more than enough employment opportunities in various capacities including marketing, engineering and customer service.

Trends in Indian telecom portray heavy inclination on Value Added Services (VAS) and are steadily moving toward video, m-commerce and chic business applications. Wireline market seemingly gives way to mobile and the broadband usage patterns are turning aggressive with the rapid emerging ubiquity of voice and video on IP, Unified Communications & Collaboration (UCC) and Cloud computing. The steep risers are due to the intense demand-supply, push-pull between service providers and consumers. Value Added Services (VAS), for instance, are very attractive to the consumers and telecom service providers alike given the providers’ projected revenue targets in excess of 15% and the value that is brought to the user. It is for sheer potential that our industry has seen one of the biggest merger and acquisitions (M&A) of late. Bharti Airtel – Zain was the second largest M&A and Reliance – GTL had almost made it to India's second largest mobile towers operator. And among other latest News is the proposed strategic partnership of Siemens IT Solutions and Services and Atos Origin with significant interest in Telecom and Media.

Industry wise, telecom is more about convergence today where information technology and IT enables service providers, mobile operators, entertainment companies, ISPs and OEMs are going to join hands and work towards the common objectives beyond the top and bottom lines: enabling hi-speed communications and accessibility through unification of channels. Telecommunications will not be looked upon as a detached function with a clear demarcation and it is going to redefine itself completely. Among this industry wide convergence especially of information, communication and entertainment (ICE), the role of industry leaders here, such as Siemens, is to address the need for adapting strategy, equipments and support solutions with guaranteed QoS. To meet customers’ expectations, markets explore new technologies and innovations in business and delivery models as the next generation networks become antiquated. Designs are being incorporated by telecom companies at multiple layers and the equipment manufacturers prepare for advanced networks that will enable the delivery of a wide range of multimedia services and amazing throughputs. IP multimedia subsystems (IMS) concepts are in consideration for delivering value-added voice & data services that keep the customers engaged and let Service Providers have better OpEx & control. The goal mostly is bringing extensive expertise in the telecom to customers focusing on the future needs of equipment vendors, mobile devices, enterprises and communication service providers. Unified Communication & Collaboration or Cloud computing is going to be the supersets for that matter, and hence, our niche already gets the prime importance in this case.

On the manufacturing aspect, export deficit may be contributed to by imports of telecom equipment so indigenous competency and the sheer market size should be used to get the production turn local and contribute to the local economy. In the course of time, correct Government policies, certification, accreditations, R&D initiatives and programs may help develop and then utilize the Indian manufacturing competencies to address this issue. With the huge market and resource potential in telecom, India can produce locally and create an astonishing pool of both skilled and unskilled jobs. What must follow is the equipment customization that promises reduced operating costs and this will also help propel the other functions and verticals in terms of growth and revenue.

Though, as we talk of the future, the recent patterns in Indian telecom are such that they guarantee a very short shelf life for any predictive report. Still, three strongly indicative transitions are: rural penetration, intense customer segmentation and ultimately consolidation. Urban market is more or less mature now and the movement towards further customer segmentation seems like the only open dimension at least in the near future. As it happens, the dirt cheap call rates and over-flooding competition among small and big players will call for the consolidation phase ultimately. More so, owing to the rising MNP era that will bring about a lot of change in the way how we choose a service provider now and perhaps customer empowerment.

Rural teledensity and penetration is still primitive by comparison and there is a whole lush landscape untapped for Greenfield projects in this segment. By and large, the 9% growth projections in India seem right barring cross-border spillover or increased global food prices interference. Given its important participation in GDP so far, Indian telecom should fare relatively well with greater focus on the right segment now i.e. rural. Despite the access-skill-power challenges, a mobile service that is both affordable to the consumer and profitable to the provider at very low ARPU can be the real game changer!
Rural telecom market in India enjoys all potentials of a booming and massive economy with a big population. Although the paying capacity is lesser but this bigger chunk has about the same needs as the urban market making it a parallel economy. Providing connectivity and communications to the revenue villages and village Panchayats (broadband access) is one of the Governments near future agendas. Among other initiatives are Unified Access Service (UAS) licenses, zero capping on the number of access providers, 100 percent FDI permission in telecom equipment manufacturing and provision of IT-enabled services, revised subscriber based criteria for allocation of Global System of Mobile Communication (GSM) & Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) spectra; and infrastructure support for mobile services.

Also, in size of population we talk of a nation here with a Bihar bigger than Germany, Haryana bigger than Australia, Tamil Nadu exceeding the United Kingdom and Kerala equaling Canada. Technically, the traditional GSM has absolutely no chance of making it through to the bones of the giant. We definitely need the micro-telecom solutions (in the making) to reach remote communities fast and such technological transitions are chief in industrial time-predictability.

Future demands things that are power-efficient and green, cost-effective, backwards-compatible but expandable and self-contained. Such solutions and technologies will be seen shortly and hopefully with the ‘Green’ tags but the shift may not be immediate.

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