Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) quarter-ending report dated September 30, 2018 states that India is currently host to 560 million wireless internet subscribers, with a quarterly growth of 9.32% and average wireless data usage clocking 8.32 GB per month. A recently released report by Cisco states that by 2022, India would have over 800 million smartphone users and would propel the country’s per capita data consumption to almost 14.2 gigabytes (GB) that stood at 2.4 GB in 2017.
It goes without saying that in today’s digital economy thrives on broadband connectivity and that broadband significantly impacts citizens’ lives globally. Several studies have looked at the impact of broadband on a country’s economy and have concluded that a 10% increase in broadband penetration increases a country’s GDP by almost 2%, while doubling up broadband speeds can add 0.3% to the GDP.
While India has been progressing year-on-year in the telecom connectivity space, a comparative analysis of the BRIC countries reveals that this progress has been rather lethargic. The below table clearly depicts that India has a long way to go in achieving telecom prowess in the true sense.
The past year witnessed several initiatives taken up by TRAI and Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to arrest this lethargy by launching the National Digital Communications Policy (NDCP) 2018, developing a roadmap for speedy 5G adoption as well as transferring several DoT officials who were responsible to ensure to maintain timelines of the BharatNet project. This project is the world’s largest rural broadband connectivity initiative that envisages at connecting India’s 0.25 million gram panchayats with high fibre optics, leading to improved access to information and services between government and citizens.
While it remains to be seen how these sweeping changes would impact the sector’s efficiency and progress, there have also been several challenges that have been troubling the sector. Issues such as severe financial stress among the incumbents due to competition since 2015; high priority on delivering quantums of data across the spectrum without improving Quality of Service (QoS) of broadband speed; as well as experiencing close to 100 instances of internet shutdowns across several states; have negatively impacted broadband connectivity’s progress along with user experience.
If India has to truly transform into a Digital country and join the ranks of other digitally advanced nations, it has to double up its efforts in ironing out its challenges and improving legacy issues, which will benefit citizens, consumers, industry as well as government.
Siddhartha Sharma is a technology entrepreneur and is the Chief Financial Officer of the CredFIC Group. He is also an Investment Manager for the India Emerging Businesses Fund by One.618 Capital, an US-based early-stage VC.