On the sidelines of the 5G launch in India, the government on Saturday held a closed-door meeting of state Information Technology (IT) ministers and top officials from the Ministry of Communications and the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY). Ashwini Vaishnaw, Union Minister for Communications, Electronics, and IT, interacted with the media after the meeting. Edited excerpts:
What are the key takeaways from your interaction with the ministers and secretaries of different states? How would it help in the ongoing revamp of the country’s digital laws?
Most state IT ministers have expressed happiness about the 5G rollout and the Rs 36,000 package approved by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. There were concerns about the impact of social media on our institutions so we would go forward with a consultation process.
Everybody is worried about the impact of online gaming and pornography. There are many concerns about these things, so we have all agreed that we should meet regularly, at least once in six months. The good thing is that many states share the best practices, and that helps others to mould their policies around these best practices.
Our thought process is to develop a comprehensive set of digital laws. The first thing was the telecom Bill. We have presented the draft and are getting very good input on it. I think majorly everyone has appreciated the progressive Bill. There are concerns about the definition of telecommunication services, including Over the Top (OTT) services. We have sought written suggestions from the industry.
Next will be the Digital Data Protection Bill and Digital India Act. We are making good progress, and it should be completed as soon as possible.
As the 5G is here, have the private players discussed with you their tariff plans? How will the 5G services transform the Digital ecosystem in India?
I think India will remain the most affordable market for telecom services. I am thrilled about the healthcare, logistics, education, and agriculture sectors, which will positively impact the future. We are tying up with close to sixty universities and giving them the 5G test pads so that youngsters can start developing new solutions and technologies.
Recently, technology development guidelines have been launched. As per the guidelines, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) will fund technologies in the telecom sector, which will help us reach out to remote areas and give better connectivity and security. Close to Rs 500 crore per year of investments for developing new technology will be available for the country. It is an open fund that will go to start-ups, academia, and industry players for building solutions. The idea is to develop new technology and have Intellectual Property (IP) rights in the country.
What is the timeline set for the last-mile connectivity of the 5G network?
We are working on about 200 cities, towns, and villages in phase one within six months. The idea is to cover close to 80-90 per cent of the country in the next two years. Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) should start rolling out 5G by August next year. That way, we will have four competitors in the market – three private players and one public player. In terms of technology, there is a significant focus on developing radio network alternatives, having more core developers, and manufacturing in India.
Regarding connectivity, Rs 36,000 crore worth of package has been allocated in the cabinet meeting, and there is good progress in covering the unconnected areas. Momentum is huge; we might cover three times that we are targeting.
When we are talking about 5G for BSNL by next August, but its 4G is still not started at that scale, would that be a challenge?
The journey of 5G would not be as long as compared to 4G. The focus was to get our technology stack ready, which is prepared. The connectivity of the fibre network and towers of BSNL is already very good. Now installing is the easier part, we only need to replace the radio, place the basement units, get the core in place, and roll it out.
How do you see the roadmap for the rollout of captive 5G networks?
We have framed very clear license conditions, guidelines, and leasing conditions for the non-public networks. We hope we will see some captive/ non-public networks in the country very soon. We are making good progress on that.