At a virtual roundtable organised by Business Today titled 'Leapfrogging Digital Infrastructure', K Ramchand, Member (technology) at the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), said that the government is working on a bunch of policies to meet the needs of current COVID times. These policies include encouraging internet service providers (ISPs) and telecom service providers (TSPs) to install millions of Wi-Fi hotspots across the country, improving broadband connections at households, a new spectrum policy, and a new work-from-home policy.
"In the COVID situation, lots of people have started working from home. Everybody has realised the importance of the telecommunications infrastructure in the country. Some of the policies are at the drafting stage; some are at the approval stage," said Ramchand.
Ramchand also highlighted the DoT is considering the recommendations from Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) regarding infrastructure providers (IP-1) to provide both passive and active infrastructure without the need for a licence.
"We are considering that. There is a debate between TRAI and DoT on registration versus licence. I would like to assure everybody here. People should not be afraid of licence. It's not Licence Raj anymore. If I ask for a licence, people should not get scared and think that registration is much easier. In fact, licensing has become much easier. We have made the UL [unified licence] much easier. We have made it online," Ramchand said to the audience of Akhil Gupta, Chairman, Bharti Infratel; Anand Agarwal, Group CEO, STL; Manoj Singh, CTO, Indus Towers; and Parag Naik, CEO, Saankhya Labs.
Last August, TRAI had floated a consultation paper to review the scope of infrastructure providers (IP-1) following which it had released recommendations in March this year which broadly said that infrastructure providers can deploy both active and passive infrastructure on the current registration that they hold. This was also in line with the National Digital Communications Policy (NDCP) 2018. DoT, on the other hand, believes that to provide active infrastructure, these players must have a licence. Both DoT and TRAI are discussing on whether the scope enhancement of IP-1 should be done under existing registration or should be licensed.
As of now, infrastructure providers like Bharti Infratel and Indus Towers are not allowed to install active infrastructure such as antennas, radio access networks (RAN), Node B, and transmission systems. As per guidelines, they can provide passive infra such as towers, dark fibers, right of way to telcos on mutually agreed terms.
Infrastructure providers believe that without the need for a licence, they can provide pan-India (common) sharable active and passive infrastructure to all telcos in a faster way that will lower the overall duplication of telecom infrastructure in the county.
Indus Towers' Singh says that IP-1s can also play a vital role in providing unlit infrastructure for millions of Wi-Fi hotspots, as envisaged by the DoT. "The moment we say to provide the infrastructure as a licence, we are going into the micromanagement of licensing. To deliver the same set of services, multiple licences are there. I would request [DoT] to reconsider this that only the end-service provider should take a licence and everybody should rally behind to meet the service obligations," he says.
While Ramchand didn't agree to the request of infrastructure providers, he says that he will try his best to see that the digital infrastructure in the country improves during his tenure in DoT. "Depending upon the industry's feedback, we are always here to modify the regulations to improve the ease of doing business," says Ramchand.