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'Surge in data usage will fuel push to digital economy'

The heads of India’s top telecom companies have said the sharp growth in data usage will fuel the push towards a digital economy, and underlined the need for cooperation.

ET Bureau|
Updated: Sep 28, 2017, 09.12 AM IST
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Mukesh Ambani said data is the new oil, which India doesn’t need to import.
Mukesh Ambani said data is the new oil, which India doesn’t need to import.
NEW DELHI: The heads of India’s top telecom companies have said the sharp growth in data usage will fuel the push towards a digital economy, and underlined the need for cooperation between carriers to catalyse it.

At the India Mobile Congress on Wednesday, Mukesh Ambani, Sunil Bharti Mittal and Vittorio Colao—the top honchos of Reliance Industries, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Group, respectively –put aside their rivalries to envision the creation of India’s digital infrastructure and economy, and left their differences on micro issues to be sorted out by their CEOs.

Reliance Industries chairman Ambani, who leads Reliance Jio Infocomm, said India’s economy is poised to grow nearly threefold to $7 trillion over the next decade to become one of the world’s top three economies. But to make it happen, the country’s telecom and IT industry would need to play a foundational role and create the necessary digital infrastructure, he said.

Ambani said data is the new oil, which India doesn’t need to import. “We have it in super abundance. It will be a source of value and will create opportunities and prosperity for India and Indians,” he said.

Calling data the “oxygen” of the digital economy, Ambani said the telecom industry has the task of empowering 1.3 billion Indians with tools needed to flourish in the digital marketplace. “We cannot deprive Indians of this vital life-sustaining resource,” he said.

Mittal said his phone company will “invest Rs 18,000-20,000 crore this year and will be a major player in leveraging the digital economy to stay ahead in the telecom sphere”.

He said he will also use his position as chairman of London-based GSMA to ensure the global mobile industry lobby group combines forces to make India Mobile Congress events the perfect global platform for showcasing the new stirrings in India’s digital technology.

Bharti Airtel, he said, is undertaking “a massive countrywide deployment of MIMO, or multiple-input multiple-output’ technology” which will enhance its network capacity manifolds, facilitating 5G technology.

Vodafone Group CEO Colao, backed the view, saying Indian consumers have a strong appetite for data services, but with still over half a billion people without internet connection, there is “a great opportunity for all”.

Vodafone, he said, will combine multiple technologies into a single machine network for seamless, high-speed digital connectivity, called unified communication, and roll it out in India.

“We offer unified communications in most parts of the world, and want to offer it also in India,” Colao said in his video speech at the event.

Digital, he said, is rapidly becoming a way of life and it’s now becoming imperative to give seamless, high-speed connectivity at home, at work, at play, anywhere I would say, in the country”.

Bharti Airtel supremo Mittal said the telcos cannot individually ring in the digital revolution, and will have to combine forces in creating digital ecosystems, use common towers and fibre resources.

Mittal said Bharti looks forward to collaborating with Jio in future. "We’ll build something for the future together with Mukesh," he said, hinting at a possible collaboration with rival Jio.

Greeting Mittal as “his good friend”, Ambani said 4G coverage in India will become larger than 2G coverage within the next 12 months, which is why there is an urgent need to apply the revolutionary powers of digital technologies to India’s pressing needs and challenges.

Mittal, however, urged the government to play a proactive role in helping telcos secure right of way (RoW) clearances to easily roll out digital broadband infrastructure.

Vodafone’s Colao said the company will look beyond voice, and more into mobile data, in converse services, in cloud services, in Internet of Things (IOT), in machine to machine, going forward.

He said Vodafone’s proposed $23-billion merger with Idea Cellular will be “the next exciting chapter” for the British telco. “We will create a strong champion for digital India, which will be, I am sure, a great support for the government’s vision and for the Indian citizen’s ambition,” said Colao.

Ambani said it is critical to foster confidence in the society that new technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, IoT, cloud computing, big data analytics, 3D printing, blockchain and nanotechnology, among others, are enablers of a new wave of wealth and employment.

Speaking at the event, Union IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the government has decided to set up Centers of Excellence in blockchain, IoT, big data and artificial intelligence.

Prasad, who was former telecom minister, announced that 100 mobile manufacturing units have been set up in India in three years.
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