Experts say that India can be a global leader in 5G rollout and Artificial Intelligence if infrastructure and regulatory issues are tackled.

 

India is capable of assuming a leading global role on such matters as the rollout of 5G services and Artificial Intelligence, provided the much-awaited National Telecom Policy (NTP) 2018 is able to address challenges like infrastructure, industry readiness, increasing cyber threats and regulatory hurdles, experts have told The Sunday Guardian.
Anand Raje, head of internet governance initiatives at Cyber Peace Foundation, said: “If the government wants to effectively rollout 5G and be AI ready, it has to make sustained efforts in promoting research and innovation in indigenous technologies, encouraging investments in infrastructure development, and easing out regulatory hurdles such as Right of Way (RoW) charges.”

According to Union Telecom Minister Manoj Sinha, the NTP 2018, which is slated to be unveiled in the next session of Parliament, will be a growth enabler by focusing on licencing framework, support to private telecom players, easing the RoW burden, and boosting investment in fibre backhaul.

While experts appreciate the government’s proactive approach towards laying out the roadmap for early adoption of next generation technologies, they have cautioned against a few challenges. They have argued that apart from easing RoW charges and encouraging investment in infrastructure development—fiberisation and tower set-up—the government needs to develop 5G-eneabled device ecosystem, strengthen its cyber secuirty network, and reinvent the academic curriculum to incorporate education in new-age technologies.
Ankit Agarwal, head of the Telecom Products Division at Sterlite Technologies, told this newspaper: “We still don’t have a device ecosystem for 5G, and assuming that they come out by 2019-20, it has to come to a price point where it is affordable to the Indian market.”

Talking about the need to bolster the cyber security, Vineet Kumar, founder of Jharkhand-based Cyber Peace Foundation, an award-winning NGO and global think tank of cyber security and policy experts, said: “With 5G coming in, we are opening up to increased cyber attacks. And with 5G and AI linked with critical applications in transportation and healthcare, there is an urgent need to build robust cyber secuirty ecosystem. The government needs to simultaneously focus on the data security aspect as well.”

Terming research and innovation critical for India to be AI ready, Raje stressed on the need for enhanced efforts from the government, colleges and IT companies.
“As the technology changes, demand changes as well. So, we need the workforce to be trained in new technologies. The youth need to be trained in blockchain, Internet of Things, AI, and machine learning. Also, the IT companies, who have largely been into outsourcing, should actively take part in research and innovation in India. Unless indigenous innovation is encouraged, we will continue to be consumers,” Raje said.

However, experts believe that despite a few challenges, there is a positive investment sentiment in the country among telecom players and if they are given substantial policy support, India can hope to be at par with other global leaders in 5G rollout.

Agarwal said: “Relaince Jio has already shown that India can consume significantly more data, almost four times more data post Jio coming in. And with the consolidation that we are seeing as a result of market disruption by Jio, we can expect to have three strong telecom players looking to invest maybe around $3-4 billion in capex a year to switch from 4G to 5G. Also, as part of BharatNet and Smart City initiatives, states are realising the need to step up the infrastructure to adopt 5G. So, for now, it appears that India will not miss the 5G bus.”

Reiterating Agarwal’s argument, Vineet Kumar said, “In addition to encouraging investments in infrastructural development, the government has been making targeted efforts towards data localisation, which is crucial for effective rollout of 5G. The Ministry of Home Affairs, Information and Technology ministry and Department of Telecommunications have been trying to work with several players like Facebook and Google to get them to set up their servers here in India.”

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