New Delhi: It was on this day 25 years ago that India’s had its first mobile phone call. What began in 1995 has culminated into India becoming one of the largest smartphone user bases in the world.
To celebrate the event, telecom industry body Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) Friday organised the ’25 Years of Mobility in India | Desh Ki Digital Udaan’, an online event.
It was inaugurated with a message from PM Modi and saw participation of Bharti Enterprises chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal, Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani, Telecom Secretary Anshu Prakash and TRAI chairman Dr R.S. Sharma.
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‘Astonishing distance’ covered by digital connectivity: PM
“When the first mobile call was made in India on 31st July 1995, very few would have known the possibilities that it could usher in,” Modi said in his message that was read out by COAI director general Lt. Gen. Dr. S.P. Kochhar.
He said an “astonishing distance” had been covered by digital connectivity, be it from voice calls to webinars, from 2G to 5G, or even the Aarogya Setu app that has become an asset to the government in its fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
In his message, the PM went on to say it was time to further accelerate India’s telecom developments. “Now that our digital connectivity ecosystem has scaled many peaks, it is now time to focus on self-reliance and security.”
Modi hoped the online event would be used to “brainstorm about a roadmap to achieve end-to-end self-reliance in connectivity infrastructure as well as ensuring greater security at all levels against threats”.
Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad also shared a message, reiterating Modi’s take on self-reliance.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given a clarion call for Aatmanirbhar Bharat — a self-reliant India… Hon’ble Prime Minister has also set a goal of making India a $5 trillion economy. Telecom sector has to play a major role in achieving that goal”.
Ambani, Mittal call for more conducive govt policy
Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman of Bharti Enterprises that includes Airtel, said, “I also feel the time has come for India to take a lead in the area of local manufacturing.” He said the PM’s vision of ‘atmanirbhar’ India is “giving us all a clarion call” to ensure more and more value addition is done for the telecom networks, mobile devices, “and of course accelerate even more our software abilities”.
Mittal also said it was time for the government to review the taxes and levies in the telecom sector. Noting that the sector has had to deal with generally high taxes, he said, “It is important that this is reviewed thoroughly and telecommunication resources like spectrum, levies should not become a source for the exchequer but should become a force multiplier…”
He added that the revenue should ensure that economic momentum becomes faster and gets accelerated so the government can earn its dues from other industries “who are going to be riding on the back of this wonderful industry”.
Ambani, whose latest investment acquisitions have seen Reliance Jio emerge as the most ambitious digital services from India, said the government should make policy decisions with “utmost urgency” to get rid of older technology like 2G and make way for newer technologies like 5G.
“…as we take legitimate pride in the achievements of mobility in the last 25 years, this is also an occasion for us to look at the obstacles that have prevented Indian consumers and Indian society from fully benefiting from the digital revolution. Here, I specifically refer to the fact that India still has 300 million mobile subscribers trapped in the 2G era,” he said.
Ambani said ‘feature phones’ keep these 300 million mobile subscribers excluded “even from the basic uses of internet”. “At a time when both India and the rest of the world are standing at the doorsteps of 5G telephony, I think necessary policy steps should be taken with utmost urgency to make 2G a part of history … Now the time has come for India to be ahead of the rest of the world in key areas of technology.”