The never ending Telecom muddle in India.

The never ending Telecom muddle in India.

Abraham Paul. P                 Dated 15-04-2012.

Introduction: In spite the technocrats in the erstwhile department of Telecom in India being the best in the world, it is astonishing to see that right from the time of privatization of Telecom industry in India, there had been continuous infirmities in decision making by the government on Telecom related matters.

Creation of various regulatory bodies and tribunals, and the technology advisers in PMO et all appears to be either ineffective or are being interfered with and therefore, resulting in failures and delays in taking right decisions keeping  interest of the people and quick Telecom growth to benefit all, as prime objects. Same is true with various EGOMs that are empowered to deal with and decide Telecom policies. Every decision taken have been invariably opposed and challenged in the courts by many private Telecom industrialists on one side and attracted adverse reports by CAG, resulting in PAC, JPC, CBI inquiries, Judiciary interventions, prosecution of a cabinet Minister and serving and retired bureaucrats, heads of industrial bodies etc. etc.

1. Technology is changing fast and the overall business characteristics have become much different from old Telecom service. Henceforth, Information Communication systems will be a complex combination of many life science technologies rolled into one, drastically  changing  the profiles of Network operation / Service provision,  Products and Service delivery entirely different from what was prevalent in the Telecom scenario for decades.

Service providers cannot remain isolated from these realities and go on with doing the type of legacy Telecom technology based business ideas while their systems, networks, products and services are being bye-passed or poached by disparate disruptive local and external technology systems and  unethical business practices that use their customer base, systems and networks and siphon out a good part of their revenue.

Thanks to the Private Industrialists, Telecom in India had grown much faster than expected,  and is soon to become one of the highest in terms of user volume in the world instead many hiccups  related to various actions, inaction and delays on the Government and regulator’s side. However, the many drawbacks in Government’s Telecom  policies right from the beginning of privatization; such as  restricting the GSM service areas co-terminus with erstwhile DOT Telecom Circles,  restrictions on interconnects between own systems and networks across its service areas, eligibility criteria and tenure of license period, the USO fund, various Spectrum related issues, etc,. had remained unresolved issues between government and the Service providers.

The problem had aggravated when Government started to deviate from its main object; that is quick growth of Telecom penetration across the country by private participation and keeping its policies as “People centric” and not “Money centric”. In addition to the muddles already created by the infirmities in most of  governments’ initial policies, the situation is allowed to go on endlessly and then the recent policies regarding License and Spectrum issues made things more murkier.

It is only fair for government to extract its due share from the industry, but it shall be commensurate with the scope of revenue earning capability of the industry as well as fast changing eco-systems and technologies that has great impact on the  business part.  The delay in decision making and implementing polices regarding making available the required quantum of right type of spectrum, the method of allocation of spectrum; whether to be given on a ‘right of usage’ basis with a fixed amount of basic entry cost on quantum of spectrum asked for, that is paid in annual installments during the License tenure and a part of  it as ‘revenue share’ according to usage, or by selling of spectrum in open auction route,  de-linking spectrum from License, some of it on erstwhile PSTN circle wise and then some on Pan India basis  etc. etc. is going to kill the Industry on one hand and undue increase in cost of service to consumers on the other hand.

More importantly, convergence of Technologies, Systems, Networks and User end devices will be the order of the future.  It is foolhardy to consider technology and its business plans in isolated pockets viz, 2G, 3G, 4G, LTE, NGN and defining and re-defining service areas like co-terminus with PSTN Telecom circles, PAN India basis etc.,  combination both and then to think of Spectrum needs accordingly.

There is still no clarity on the issues of License and Spectrum. The propsal of de-linking Spectrum from License also raise many questions:-

1. Will  both License and Spectrum will be auctioned? What will be auctioned first; License or Spectrum? What will happen if some bidders get license first and do not qualify in spectrum auction or the other way around? What happens once the tenure of License exhausted?  Will  a new company getting License will be  automatically given required spectrum? If so what was the this big idea of de-linking Spectrum from License?

2. What happens to the incumbent Telecom operators? Building up of Telecom business is a continuous process of expansions, upgrades and migrations to new technology. Telecom is a highl investment oriented industry and also under obligation of providing socially vital service at affordable cost of usage to its large percentage of middle class and poor customers that form large part of the business volume.

License of operation of a servicing Telecom operation cannot be cancelled on a cut off date.  How can Govt. tell an incumbent operator to get their fresh License through auction?  How can an incumbent operator make sure that they can get license through auction? Even if it is obtained, what about spectrum? What happens if they are not successful in getting spectrum through auction after getting License through auction?

3. Re-farming will provide enough spectrum for all. In a situation where supply far exceed demand, how can auction be an option?  If everyone quotes the minimum bid prize, the spectrum will have to be given out by lot at that prize. Then it goes back to first-come – first- served among the needy. If none of the incumbent operators  participate in auction process, can Govt. take penal actions? Ultimately Government will have to give out required spectrum as Telecom Service is more in the interest of people ie. Government, than the Industries.

One thing the Government and every stake holder to keep in mind is that ultimately connectivity is the vital part of every form of ICT, and the media needed for connectivity is the only thing that do not change and every thing else undergo transformation as technology advances.  It is therefore, vital that ownership of Spectrum should remain with Government and shall be given right of usage as per need and take back when not used or when replaced by different frequency spectrum.

Further to these,  convergence of services viz., Voice Telephony, Data and Multi-media, Internet based services, various Telephony and non-telephony related VAS such as e-commerce and mobile Banking & NBFCs, NFC based products, disparate Location based services, navigation systems, Bandwidth on demand, Cloud Computing, TV and Radio access, various VOIP services such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Blackberry, Skype etc., that over ride or bye pass telecom network will drastically disrupt the Telecom business an the Industry as a whole.

Increase in traffic volume and thereby sizing of systems need to be revisited. The average holding time of real time data service connectivity on circuit switched paths (9 to 12 minuets) being about 6 times that of Voice calls (1 to 2 minutes) that generate about 0.1 to o.2 TU per line and the huge number of call attempts is going to be beyond the normal capabilities of telecom switching systems and lead to over load of and collapse of individual systems and also other systems in the junction network. It is almost impossible to design such high traffic handling switching systems. Therefore, with digitalisation it is imperative to move over to IP based switches and networks which will be the order of the future.

Considering the changing topology, the high penetration and density of information communication networks,  Telecom Service providers will have to reconsider their future Plans. One of the methods to reduce high CAPEX & OPEX is Segregation of Network operation and Service provision and with that the need of redundant Systems and more spectrum for individual networks, product and service, will vanish.

I have been writing to all concerned about all these issues for many years now. Please see my blogs:-

1.‘Segregation of Service Provision from Network operation / Universal Numbering Plan.

2. Make Telecom Systems, network, Phones, product and services for the common man.

3. Who need spectrum, where and when and how much?

4. It is wrong to sell wireless spectrum’.

5. A new outlook to usher in Pan India Telecom and Unified Licensing.

6. Impact of transition from Voice to Data and Multimedia.

7. Convergence of Wired and Wireless networks.

8. Exclusively banked Universal Money Management by phone for ‘Financial lnclusion’ and ‘Micro-Finance support’ for people in the lower strata across the country.

Telecom is a service Industry that can contribute to garner higher overall and inclusive growth and push up GDP of the country. Hope the Governments, its Bureaucrats & Technocrats, CAGs and Hon. Courts will care to understand these and take decisions accordingly, instead endlessly messing out things and making it more  murkier that can cause great harm to the nation.


P. Abraham Paul.

Ex. Director / V.P. (TS) SPCNL, SIEMENS ICN /  GM & SMT TBG, BPL Mobile / TES (I) DOT India.   Tweet @pa_paul


About Abraham Paul

Vision & Objective: Telecom has always been the passion of my life. After 60 years of outstanding career and many personal contributions to the industry, I still have same urge, and desire to give back to the industry, the abundant experience, knowledge and potential acquired, by providing consultancy service to forward looking enterprises and entrepreneurs in Legacy and New generation Telecom & IT in the areas of Business Management, Technology, Engineering and Services. Apolitical and religiously unbiased.
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