February 2, 2023 12:52 am


Waiting of years for a landline telephone to 5G, Indian Telecom Revolution has come a long way

Telecommunication facilities within India have come a long way which has been quite interesting. Starting from landline to mobile phones, the story of the introduction of telecom facilities in India has also been full of policies, scandals, reforms,

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi today (1st Oct) launched 5G services in India. The launch took place at the sixth edition of the Indian Mobile Congress at Pragati Maidan in Delhi. 

These 5G facilities of Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel will now become fully operational next month in some major cities whereas, by the end of 2023, it will be available across the country. The spectrum for the launch of these services was auctioned a few months back.

As of now India today has one of very high-speed internet arrangements at place, But it was not the same two decades back. Telecommunication facilities within India have come a long way which has been quite interesting. Starting from landlines to mobile phones, the story of the introduction of telecom facilities in India has also been full of policies, scandals, reforms, and controversies.

Landline Telephone: Long wait 

The telephone was first introduced in India in 1881 during the British Raj. Telephone exchanges were set up in big cities like Calcutta, Madras, etc. After that, it continued to spread to other cities. At the time of India’s independence, there were only 84,000 telephone connections for a population of 350 million, most of which were in government offices.

In India, having a telephone in one’s house was considered a status symbol, people had to wait for years to get a telephone connection. Even to get a telephone connection, people used to get recommendations from MPs and MLAs. Till 1994, India did not even have a phone for every 100 people. Those were years when there was the availability of 10 phones for every 100 people across the globe.

C-DOT was established in the 1980s in India. Its purpose was to make telephone access to the people in India easier. C-DOT established several PCOs in the country in the 1980s working toward the public telephone system in India. According to data, there were 42 lakh coin PCOs in India till the year 2006.

Mobile launch

Telecom policy was introduced for the first time in the year 1994 after the economic reforms of 1991 in India. This policy was brought by Pandit Sukhram, then Minister of Communications in the Narasimha Rao Government. Sukh Ram belonged to Himachal Pradesh. Under the policy, the entire was to be covered with telephone and communication facilities.

In the Telecom Policy of 1994, telecom services were opened to the private sector so that not only the government but also interested private companies could start telecom services. After the introduction of this policy, in November 1994, eight private sector companies within India were given licenses to start mobile services in 4 major cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and Kolkata.

As a result of this, in 1995, for the first time in India, mobile calls became a reality. The call took place between India’s then Communications Minister Sukh Ram and Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu, as a symbol of the start of services. However, even after this, services could not start in India at a pace the government had expected. The policy flaws were a reason behind this. Within the policy, revenue and license fee, etc. were some issues of challenges within it. 

Sukh Ram, the minister who brought this policy, was later also allegedly embroiled in a scam and was sentenced to prison for 5 years. He was accused of giving a contract of 30 crores to a private company Haryana Telecom Limited in exchange for a bribe of 3.5 lakhs.

New Telecom Policy, 1999: Emergence of New India

In order to overcome the shortcomings of the old policy and for the rapid growth of mobile services inside India, the BJP government led by Atal Bihari Bajpayee brought a new policy in 1999 by reforming the 1994 policy. The objective of this policy was to provide mobile services in hilly, tribal, and all areas within India in a more transparent manner.

In the policy, it was decided that the mobile service provider companies will have to pay a part of their revenue to the government as fees. With this, the rules of mobile provider services in India were also changed and liberalized. Companies were given considerable discounts. Along with this, emphasis was also laid on the availability of the internet in India. This policy also ensured that people did not have to wait for the telephone anymore now.

The effect of Atal Bihari Bajpayee’s efforts was that by the time his government came to power in 2004, the total number of mobile connections in India had surpassed the number of landline phones. The communication revolution thus started in India.

In an event in 2018, Airtel Chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal called Atal Bihari Bajpai the father of ‘Telecom in India’, he said that Atal Bihari Bajpayee understood and solved the problems of the telecom sector.

After some other policies, this sector continued to grow rapidly in India, by 2008 there were more than 300 million mobile phone connections in India. India emerged as the largest telecom market in the world after China. By this time 2G services were available in the country.

2G scam

The number of 2G i.e. second generation mobile connections in India was increasing continuously. Due to this, new companies were also continuously entering this field. The then Congress government auctioned a new spectrum in the year 2008.

Spectrum is a type of license that the government gives to any company to provide mobile services. In 2010, the CAG, the department that tracks government income and expenditure in India, revealed that the then telecom minister had given these licenses to companies at prices fixed in 2001. Due to this, the government suffered a loss of about 1.76 lakh crore. Other irregularities were also reported in the sale of this spectrum.

Due to all these allegations, then Telecom Minister A Raja had to resign from his post. A Raja was also arrested subsequently in this case and he spent 15 months in jail. Apart from Raja, the CBI also named Kanimozhi, the daughter of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi, as an accused. However, later, the accused were acquitted for lack of evidence.

3G and 4G: The Age of Faster Internet

3G i.e. the third generation mobile phone services started in India in the years 2008 and 2009 with BSNL first starting these services. Where till now people used to use the internet slower than 2G and calls and messages. 3G also made things like video calls, and high-speed internet possible.

However, 3G services were not available as much as 2G services due to costlier and slow rollout across the country. The new internet revolution in India started with the advent of 4G.

4G spectrum auctions took place in India on a large scale in 2014 and Reliance Jio bought them in addition to the three already established companies Airtel, Vodafone, and Idea. Although Airtel started 4G services in some cities in the year 2012.

Large-scale 4G services in India started in the year 2016 when Mukesh Ambani-owned Reliance Jio launched 4G services across the country in September. Jio continued the service of free internet across the country for the next several months.

The availability of 4G services at affordable rates in India started after Jio and the sector continued to pick up the pace. According to a report by Crisil, India will have 82 crores 4G services customers by the end of the year 2022.

The telecom sector has changed a lot even since the Modi government took over in India. Sunil Mittal, chairman of Airtel, informed this through a tweet that all the works are being undertaken without any hassle in the present government. 

With the ever-changing technology, now India has also joined the league of nations that have excellent internet facilities.  

With the launch of 5G services, India will be among the few countries in the world where this technology is available.

Ritika Chandola
Ritika Chandola

"The wings I have, I write with them"
A media practitioner, a seeker, listener, learner, researcher, and a writer.

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