5G’s affordable, inclusive promise
NEW DELHI: Data is the new oil, a phrase coined in 2006 by the British mathematician Clive Humby is more relevant now than ever, especially in the context of India.
The recently-concluded spectrum auction for 5G services, saw 71% of the spectrum being sold for Rs 1.5 lakh crore, to be paid over 20 annual installments.
The record sum netted by the exchequer, which far exceeded the previous sum of Rs 1.1 lakh crore in 2015 was an indicator of the confidence of the telecom industry in the world’s second largest smartphone market.
The government has auctioned low, mid, and high frequency bands, hoping that players will leverage the acquired spectrum to roll out 5G services to harness the potential of creating new-age businesses, generating additional revenue for enterprises and providing employment arising from the deployment of innovative use-cases and technologies.
Telecom Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw has been hailed as the driving force behind executing one of the most ambitious and successful spectrum auctions seen in India.
His game plan essentially involves improving the quality of services, ensuring a smooth and glitch-free launch of the high-speed networks and providing these facilities to citizens in an affordable price bracket.
The question of price point for 5G services is critical — considering India’s telecom tariffs are among the lowest in the world.
Thanks to economies of scale, the ongoing trend of tariffs could continue.
The government is also doing its bit in creating a conducive milieu for the telecom sector, which is being viewed as a sunshine industry, thanks to the multifaceted opportunities it presents.
For starters, the Centre had initiated a progressive rescue effort and reforms for the industry in September 2021, which included relief provided in critical areas such as spectrum usage charge (SUC), adjusted gross revenue (AGR) as well as bank assurances to make the business financially feasible for enterprises.
Telecom firms and ancillary industries are expected to invest between Rs 2-3 lakh crore in beefing up and upgrading their networks, which will hopefully make call drops and laggard internet speeds a thing of the past.
The auction has transpired at a time when the Centre has also bailed out the state-owned BSNL by committing Rs 1.64 lakh crore, the second revival package within less than five years.
Vaishnaw had termed the 2019 relief package as a lifeline for BSNL, aimed at turning it operationally profitable.
While the expectation is to turn its fortunes within three years, the State-owned enterprise has a lot of catching up to do as BSNL’s 4G roll out is yet to take place.
The government has highlighted healthcare, citizen-friendly financial services, smart cities and education as its priority areas for auctioning the spectrum.
We’ve seen the manner in which our dependence on digital services shot up during the pandemic, when a few privileged individuals were almost able to ride out the crisis purely on account of high speed internet connectivity.
And the wide chasm separating the haves from the have-nots came into stark relief when concepts like virtual learning were introduced, and many students in far flung regions of the nation, with next to zero internet coverage had to miss out on their classes.
Undoubtedly 5G will turn out to have phenomenal use cases, but its utilities must percolate down to all sections of society in an inclusive manner.