Bharti Airtel, the largest telecom company in the country on Thursday said that it is awaiting the report by a high-level inter-ministerial panel and the government on stress in the telecom sector where competition is “going down” as a result of consolidation.
While speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum’s India Economic Summit, Chairman of Bharti Enterprises Sunil Mittal said “We are waiting for IMG (inter-ministerial group) and Telecom Commission report.”
Competition is going down, Mittal said while talking about the state of competition in the telecom sector, which saw fierce tariff wars hitting the bottom line of large telcos.
There has been a debt load of over Rs 4.6 lakh crore on the telecom sector. In order to recommend measures to mitigate the financial woes, an inter-ministerial group (IMG) was constituted, which placed its report before the Telecom Commission this year.
The Telecom Commission, the apex decision-making body at the telecom department, last week approved IMG’s recommendation on extension of time period for payment of spectrum bought in auctions by telcos to 16 years from the current 10 years.
IMG’s suggestion of lowering interest rate charged over penalties imposed on service providers was also approved by the Commission.
While India’s digital vision is strong and so is the support to the programme, the states were not showing “the same level of urgency”, Mittal said while addressing a conference.
“It is not percolating down to the system. At the states, same level of urgency is not visible. There has to be some programme in the government where they match the vision right down to the gram panchayats, municipal bodies, state governments and create that urgency that this is one pillar for growth in India which is so important that they must pay attention (to),” the chairman added.
The government’s vision is ready, the industry players are rallying behind the vision, and consumers are demanding the services, he said, adding that “yet, there is a big lag from what we want to achieve in India”.
In the telecom sector, Mittal stressed, the shift in technology from 3G to 4G and 5G would lead to exponential not incremental changes. India, with its futuristic networks, will possibly lead the world on certain aspects of telecom.
“Very clearly, the market (telecom) has consolidated,” said the Indian telecom czar.
Investments in infrastructure deployment too are accelerating, he said, adding that his own company has nearly doubled its network capex this year.
“My own company has spent USD 3 billion this year only on network capex. This is significant. This is significantly higher than USD 1.5-2 billion we do every year,” he said.
Stating that India’s 4G networks match global capabilities, Mittal highlighted that many companies have started experimenting with 5G.
“I don’t think India will, in any way, be behind... in some cases, it may lead in certain parts of telecommunication. We are investing... I hope others too,” he said.
Countering Mittal, Railways and Coal Minister Piyush Goyal said “Can I just add a little bit just to change the perspective from what Sunil had mentioned? What Sunil just spoke about companies bringing down their employment is a very good sign, in fact.”
“The country today is seeing more and more young people wanting to be entrepreneurs,” Goyal added.
Talking about the Railways, the minister said that it could alone create ‘not less than a million jobs’ in less than 12 months.
(With PTI inputs)