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The telecom industry has been divided into two major segments, that is, fixed and wireless cellular services for this report. Besides, internet services, VAS, PMRTS and VSAT also have been discussed in brief in the report.

In today’s information age, the telecommunication industry has a vital role to play. Considered as the backbone of industrial and economic development, the industry has been aiding delivery of voice and data services at rapidly increasing speeds, and thus, has been revolutionising human communication.

Although the Indian telecom industry is one of the fastest-growing industries in the world, the current teledensity or telecom penetration is extremely low when compared with global standards. India’s teledensity of 36.98% in FY09 is amongst the lowest in the world. Further, the urban teledensity is over 80%, while rural teledensity is less than 20%, and this gap is increasing. As majority of the population resides in rural areas, it is important that the government takes steps to improve rural teledensity. No doubt the government has taken certain policy initiatives, which include the creation of the Universal Service Obligation Fund, for improving rural telephony. These measures are expected to improve the rural tele-density and bridge the rural-urban gap in tele-density.

Introduction - Evolution

Indian telecom sector is more than 165 years old. Telecommunications was first introduced in India in 1851 when the first operational land lines were laid by the government near Kolkata (then Calcutta), although telephone services were formally introduced in India much later in 1881. Further, in 1883, telephone services were merged with the postal system. In 1947, after India attained independence, all foreign telecommunication companies were nationalised to form the Posts, Telephone and Telegraph (PTT), a body that was governed by the Ministry of Communication. The Indian telecom sector was entirely under government ownership until 1984, when the private sector was allowed in telecommunication equipment manufacturing only. The government concretised its earlier efforts towards developing R&D in the sector by setting up an autonomous body – Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT) in 1984 to develop state-of-the-art telecommunication technology to meet the growing needs of the Indian telecommunication network. The actual evolution of the industry started after the Government separated the Department of Post and Telegraph in 1985 by setting up the Department of Posts and the Department of Telecommunications (DoT).

The entire evolution of the telecom industry can be classified into three distinct phases.

Until the late 90s the Government of India held a monopoly on all types of communications – as a result of the Telegraph Act of 1885. As mentioned earlier in the chapter, until the industry was liberalised in the early nineties, it was a heavily government-controlled and small-sized market, Government policies have played a key role in shaping the structure and size of the Telecom industry in India. As a result, the Indian telecom market is one of the most liberalised market in the world with private participation in almost all of its segments. The New Telecom Policy (NTP-99) provided the much needed impetus to the growth of this industry and set the trend for libralisation in the industry.

Current Status

Globalisation has made telecommunication an integral part of the infrastructure of the Indian economy. The telecom sector in India has developed as a result of progressive regulatory regime.

According to the TRAI, the total gross revenue of the Indian telecom services industry was Rs 1,524 bn in FY09 up from Rs 1,291 bn in FY08 registering a growth of 18.03% over FY08 and its subscriber base grew by 43% over FY08 to touch 429.70 mn subscribers in FY09.

The telecom sector in India experienced a rapid growth over the past decade on account of regulatory libralisation, structural reforms and competition, making telecom one of the major catalysts in India’s growth story. However, much of this growth can be attributed to the unprecedented growth in mobile telephony as the number of mobile subscribers grew at an astounding rate from 10 million in 2002 to 392 million in 2009. Besides, the growth in the service and IT and ITeS sector also increased the prominence of the telecom industry in India. Telecom has emerged as a key infrastructure for economic and consumer growth because of its multiplier effect and the fact that it is beneficial to trade in other industries. The contribution of the sector to GDP has been increasing gradually (its contribution in GDP has more than doubled to 2.83% in FY07 from 1.0% in FY92).

Telecom is one of the fastest-growing industries in India; on an average the industry added 8 million wireless subscribers every month in FY08. The government had set a target of 500 million telecom connections by 2010. However, according to the TRAI, the total subscriber base (wireless and wireline) in the industry crossed the 500-mn-mark and reached 509.03 mn by the end of September 2009, which took India to the second position in terms of wireless network in the world next only to China. Prior to liberalisation, the telecom sector was monopolised by the public sector and recorded marginal growth; in fact, during 1948-1998, the incremental teledensity in the country was just 1.92%. However, the introduction of NTP’99 accelerated the growth of the sector and the teledensity increased from 2.33 in 1999 to 36.98 in 2009; however, much of this growth was brought about by the NTP-99 policy changes such as migration from fixed license fee to revenue sharing regime and cost-oriented telecom tariffs. From 2003 onwards the government has taken certain initiatives such as unified access licensing regime, reduced access deficit, introduction of calling party pays (CPP) and revenue sharing regime in ADC that has provided further impetus to the sector.

The Indian telecom industry is characterised with intense competition, and continuous price wars. Currently, there are around a dozen telecom service providers who operate in the wired and wireless segment. The government has been periodically implementing suitable fiscal and promotional policies to boost domestic demand and to create volumes for the industry.

The Indian telecom industry has immense growth potential as the teledensity in the country is just 36 as compared with 60 in the US, 102 in the UK and 58 in Canada. The wireless segment growth has played a dominant role in taking the teledensity to the current levels. In the next few years, the industry is poised to grow further, in fact, it has already entered a consolidation phase as foreign players are struggling to acquire a pie in this dynamic industry.

Role in India’s Development

Contribution to GDP

According to the UNCTAD, there is a direct correlation between the growth in mobile teledensity and the growth in GDP per capita in developing countries, which tend to have a high percentage of rural population. The share of the telecom services industry in the total GDP has been rising over the past few years (the telecom sector contribution in GDP went up from 2.52% in FY05 to 2.83% in FY07).

Employment

The Indian telecommunication industry employs over 400,000 direct employees and about 85% of these employees are from government-owned companies. The ratio of number of subscribers to employees, an indication of efficiency and profitability, is much higher for private companies than for government companies.

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)

Foreign direct investment has been one of the major contributors in the growth of the Indian economy, and therefore, the need for higher FDI is felt across sectors in the Indian economy. The telecom sector has played a crucial role in attracting FDI in India. The share of telecom sector in the total FDI inflows in India has gone up to 10% in FY09 as compared with just 3% in FY05.

The telecom sector requires huge investments for its expansion as it is capital-intensive and FDI plays a vital role in meeting the fund requirements for expansion of the telecom sector. Telecom accounts for almost 10% of the total FDI inflows in the country and has been the third-largest sector to attract FDI in India in the post-liberalisation era

The Indian telecom industry has been an attractive avenue for foreign investors over the years. As per DIPP figures, the cumulative FDI inflow during August 1991 to June 2009 period, in the telecommunication sector amounted to US$ 113 bn. FDI calculation takes into account radio paging, cellular mobile and basic telephone services in the telecommunication sector.

In the 2004-05 Budget, the government raised the FDI limit from 49% to 74% in the telecom services segment subject to retention of local management control. According to the new norms, 26% share out of the 74% should be held by an Indian company or an Indian citizen with Indian management. Further, 100% FDI is permitted in telecom manufacturing, category I infrastructure providers, ISPs without gateway, call centres and IT-enabled services. Further, direct or indirect FDI up to 74% is permitted subject to licensing and security requirements for ISPs with gateways, radio paging operators and category II infrastructure providers.

The relaxation in FDI norms has attracted many foreign telecom majors to the sector. The presence of foreign players has not only encouraged faster infrastructure development and upgradation but also has opened up the domestic industry to foreign competition. Since 2004, there has been a large inflow of FDI in the sector. During 2004-05 and 2005-06, a period during which the FDI norms were relaxed, the FDI inflow grew by an astounding 300% to US$ 624 mn in 2005-06 from merely US$ 125 mn in 2004-05. The inflow of FDI has provided tremendous impetus to the sector in the past few years and the attractiveness of the sector has kept the FDI inflows growing steadily. During FY09 the FDI in the telecom sector at US$ 2,558 mn was 103% higher than that seen in FY08 at US$ 1,261 mn. Further, the FDI in the sector has already reached US$ 2010 mn for a six month period of FY10 (Apr-Sep 09) and is expected to surpass the total FDI for FY09.

The government’s liberalised FDI policies have resulted in several foreign companies entering into the Indian markets. The influx of foreign players in the Indian telecom industry has led to capacity creation, and better infrastructure, which in turn has bettered the network quality. The rise in FDI has also enabled technology transfer, market access and has improved organisational skills; going forward, FDI could be used for providing telecom services to rural areas, where teledensity is still very low.

The change in FDI policy that has raised the FDI limit from 49% to 74% for the sector has made it more attractive for foreign players. In the long run the growth prospects of telecom players that have foreign partners will improve and other players will get new avenues to raise capital.

Growth of IT-ITeS and Financial Sector

India has entered the league of countries with the most-advanced telecommunication infrastructure after the industry was deregulated. Furthermore, deregulation has stimulated India’s economic growth through industry growth and through rise in investments. It is evident that a well-developed communication sector improves access to social networks, lowers transaction costs, increases economic opportunities, widens markets, and provides better access to information, healthcare and educational services. The growth in Indian telecom sector has been concomitant with overall growth in GDP, government revenue, employment et al. Besides, telecommunication has increased efficiency, reduced transaction costs, attracted investments and has created new opportunities for business and employment.

The NTP-99 was particularly helpful for the ITeS-BPO industry as it ended the government monopoly in international calling by introducing IP telephony. After the introduction of IP telephony, there was rapid growth in the number of data processing centres and inbound/outbound call centres, which ultimately led to the outsourcing revolution in India.

The telecom sector has been instrumental in creating jobs for a vast pool of talented and knowledge professionals in the IT and ITeS-BPO industry, which thrives on reliable telecommunication infrastructure. India has become an important outsourcing destination for the world and the boom in this sector also has transformed India’s economic dynamics. The evolution of telecom sector has brought about a revolutionary change in the way some businesses operate.

Another beneficiary of the telecom revolution is the financial services industry, which has been on a growth trajectory. The progress and quality of the financial sector has been a key factor that has driven the pace and diversity of the real economy. India has an extensive and well-developed financial sector with wide and sophisticated banking network. Banking in India has become service-oriented, and has matured greatly from the days of walk-in customers to the present situation when banks have migrated to a 24-hour banking platform to attract customers; however, this disintermediation in the business has led banks to be extremely prudent in terms of their internal operations and has led them to adopt newer products and delivery channels. Further, with introduction of internet & mobile banking the long ques at the banks are slowly becoming a thing of the past.

Both the financial and the IT-ITeS segments rely on good domestic as well as international network connectivity; therefore, there is a need for a sound telecommunication network.

Factors Facilitating Growth of the Sector

The phenomenal growth in the Indian telecom industry was brought about by the wireless revolution that began in the nineties. Besides this, the following factors also aided the growth of the industry.

Libralisation

The relaxation of telecom regulations has played a major role in the development of the Indian telecom industry. The liberalisation policies of 1991 and the consequent influx of private players have led the industry on a high growth trajectory and have increased the level of competition. Post-liberalisation, the telecom industry has received more investments and has implemented higher technology.

Increasing Affordability of Handsets

The phenomenal growth in the Indian telecom industry was predominantly aided by the meteoric rise in wireless subscribers, which encouraged mobile handset manufacturers to enter the market and to cater to the growing demand. Further, the manufacturers introduced lower-priced handsets with add-on facilities to cater to the increasing number of subscribers from different strata of the society. Now even entry-level handsets come with features like coloured display and FM radio. Thus, the falling handset prices and the add-on features have triggered growth of the Indian telecom industry.

Prepaid Cards Bring in More Subscribers

In the late nineties, India was introduced to prepaid cards, which was yet another milestone for the wireless sector. Prepaid cards lured more subscribers into the industry besides lowering the credit risk of service providers due to its upfront payment concept. Prepaid cards were quite a phenomenon among first-time users who wanted to control their bills and students who had limited resources but greater need to be connected. Pre-paid cards greatly helped the cellular market to grow rapidly and cater to the untapped market. Further, the introduction of innovative schemes like recharge coupons of smaller denominations and life time incoming free cards has led to an exponential growth in the subscriber base.

Introduction of Calling Party Pays (CPP)

The CPP regime was introduced in India in 2003 and under this regime, the calling party who initiated the call was to bear the entire cost of the call. This regime came to be applicable for mobile to mobile calls as well as fixed line to mobile calls. So far India had followed the Receiving Party Pays (RPP) system where the subscriber used to pay for incoming calls from both mobile as well as fixedline networks. Shifting to the CPP system has greatly fuelled the subscriber growth in the sector.

Changing Demographic Profile

The changing demographic profile of India has also played an important role in subscriber growth. The changed profile is characterised by a large young population, a burgeoning middle class with growing disposable income, urbanisation, increasing literacy levels and higher adaptability to technology. These new features have multiplied the need to be connected always and to own a wireless phone and therefore, in present times mobiles are perceived as a utility rather than a luxury.

Increased Competition & Declining Tariffs

Liberalisation of the telecom industry has fuelled intense competition, especially in the cellular segment. The ever-increasing competition has led to high growth of subscribers and has put pressure on tariffs, which have seen a sharp drop over the years. When the cellular phones were introduced, call rates were at a peak of Rs 16 per minute and there were charges for incoming calls too. Today, however, incoming calls are no longer charged and outgoing calls are charged at less than a rupee per minute. Thus, the tariff war has come a long way indeed. Increased competition and the subsequent tariff war has acted as a major catalyst for attracting more subscribers. Apart from these major growth drivers, an improved network coverage, entry of CDMA players, growth of value-added services (VAS), advancement in technology, and growing data services have also driven the growth of the industry.

Outlook

The telecom industry in India has experienced exponential growth over the past few years and has been an important contributor to economic growth; however, the cut-throat competition and intense tariff wars have had a negative impact on the revenue of players. Despite the challenges, the Indian telecom industry will thrive because of the immense potential in terms of new users. India is one of the most-attractive telecom markets because it is still one of the lowest penetrated markets. The government is keen on developing rural telecom infrastructure and is also set to roll out next generation or 3G services in the country. Operators are on an expansion mode and are investing heavily on telecom infrastructure. Foreign telecom companies are acquiring considerable stakes in Indian companies. Burgeoning middle class and increasing spending power, the government’s thrust on increasing rural telecom coverage, favourable investment climate and positive reforms will ensure that India’s high potential is indeed realised.