Digital infrastructure – Backbone of an economy

24 Jun 2020

India is witnessing a major digital revolution. The Confederation of Indian Industry  (CII), in its report, Digital Infrastructure, Backbone of a Digital Economy stated that as of September 2019, India was one of the fastest-growing markets with the digital consumer base comprising of 119.52 crore telecom subscribers and 68.76 crore internet subscribers.

The Indian telecom Industry, which was earlier voice-driven, has now become predominantly data-driven. Increased internet penetration and growing smartphone adoption are factors driving the growth of digital in India. The spending on cloud technologies is on the rise as businesses are looking to accelerate their digital business initiatives.

A significant part of the technology transformation has taken place in the last five years, with India emerging as the second fastest digital adopter among seventeen major digital economies. This meteoric growth can be attributed to the substantial investment in creating a robust and affordable digital infrastructure that comprises of internet backbone, fixed broadband, mobile communications, cloud computing, data centres, and applications.

In the wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, especially during the lockdown, there has been increased adoption of teleworking, telemedicine, and online education. This could result in a sudden upsurge in the network traffic, which could only be fulfilled by a robust supporting infrastructure. Increased internet penetration, the transition of telecom service providers for providing 4G services, and eventual migration to the fifth-generation network (5G), presents a demand for supporting infrastructure.

The Government has already initiated several programmes such as Digital India and the National Digital Communications Policy 2018 (NDCP 2018) for strengthening digital infrastructure and increasing digital penetration. The National Broadband Mission (NBM) aims to provide broadband access to all villages by 2022. Bharat Net, First Fibre Initiative, and establishment of the National Digital Grid are some of the other notable initiatives in the same direction. 

Though actions carried out under these initiatives are commendable, there is a lot of scope in terms of improving rural teledensity, internet density, and low download speeds.

Source: CII Report: Digital Infrastructure: Backbone of a Digital Economy

To strengthen the digital infrastructure in the country the focus should be on broadband network, financing the digital highways, restoring the health of the telecom sector, strengthening satellite communication technologies, promoting Make in India, and providing infrastructure for data localisation.

Mass broadband deployment could be hastened by eliminating operational hurdles related to Ease of Doing Business (EoDB) in the telecom sector. Along with it, by bringing regulation around the creation of telecom installations and cabling in buildings, clarity on RoW (Right-Of-Way) norms, introducing common ducting norms, and adherence to fibre standards in public and private sector could boost EoDB.

Government intervention is also required in financing digital highways. To complement broadband infrastructure, satellite infrastructure should be strengthened. Liberalising licensing and regulatory conditions, encouraging local manufacturing, and ensuring competitive pricing for satellite bandwidth are some of the ways to intensify satellite communication.

Timely implementation of these steps could accelerate the realization of the strategic objectives of NDCP 2018, including digital sovereignty. In the post-COVID world, digital infrastructure will be a game changer for companies and countries.