01 Aug Telecom sector needs to focus on security and self reliance: PM Narendra Modi
NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for “self-reliance and security” in the telecom sector, highlighting issues in focus amid heightened India-China border tension as networks prepare for the advent of 5G.
“Now that our digital connectivity ecosystem has scaled many peaks, it is time to focus on self-reliance and security,” Modi said in a message that was read out at a Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) webinar marking 25 years of Indian mobile telephony.
The statement by the Prime Minister comes as India has joined the US and the UK in underlining security concerns over Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE, given their alleged links to the Chinese government and army.
India has already decided to bar Chinese equipment makers from government contracts and is believed to have nudged private players to gradually phase out gear made by companies from the neighbouring country.
India has also blocked 59 Chinese apps, as well as 47 of their clones, citing them as being prejudicial to the sovereignty, integrity and defence of India.
China said on Wednesday that a “forced decoupling” of its economy with India would hurt both countries and that it was not a strategic threat to its neighbour.
Telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the Indian telecom sector needs to become a robust contributor to the global supply chain but not in “isolation,” in his message to the event. Prime Minister Modi had announced the Atmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India) Abhiyan in May as part of a strategy to reduce dependence on imports and revive the economy in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. The drive gained urgency after the June border skirmish.
Prasad emphasised that Atmanirbhar Bharat meant a push toward self-reliance and sought to allay fears that it implied isolationism. India wanted to become a robust contributor to the global supply chain by expanding its local manufacturing across sectors. He reiterated that the telecom sector will play a key role in making India a $5 trillion economy.
The prime minister highlighted the technological distance that India has traversed.
“From 2G to 5G, from digital elitism to digital democracy, the journey of digital connectivity has covered an astonishing distance,” he said. Noting the significance of upgradation, Modi said digital connectivity was a resource for any government looking to transform the lives of its people.
He elaborated on how India had conceived and operationalised the JAM (Jan Dhan, Aadhaar, mobile) trinity, which aimed to promote financial inclusion and direct benefit transfers among other social welfare goals. This had revolutionised citizen-government connectivity and shattered silos, he said.
He said the Aarogya Setu contacttracing app had been an asset in India’s fight against Covid-19. He also emphasised that digital connectivity was an enabler of multiple kinds of mobility — social, economic and transformational. “The companies active in the ecosystem of digital connectivity have done yeoman service to the poor and underprivileged by ensuring that connectivity reaches them,” he said.
Key challenges ahead
Telecom secretary Anshu Prakash spoke about the challenges facing the capital-intensive telecom sector that needed to be resolved as India tries to achieve the futuristic goals of expanding broadband connectivity and enhancing its ranking in the global ICT (information and communications technology) Development Index.
As the country gets ready for 5G, Prakash said India must prepare to reap the benefits of next-generation technology applications across all sectors, including health, education, agriculture, disaster management, industry and commerce.
“Enhancement of our capabilities and capacities in the core ICT sector must be a focus area,” Prakash said.
Areas that needed attention include tower density, fibre use per capita, fiberisation of towers, FTTH (fibre to the home) connections and internet lease line communications along with resolving right of way issues, he said.
“The telecom sector is in the hot seat,” said COAI director general SP Kochhar. “When you are tasked with keeping a billion Indians connected through good and bad times, you have to be infallible, resilient and a problem solver.