With all the talk about Digital India, one would think it’s taking off. But in reality, it isn’t quite here yet – because of our confused approach to independent networks, and regulations that restrict efficient use of spectrum and radio networks. Oddly enough, we don’t suffer this confusion about sharing other infrastructure, such as roads, rail, electricity networks or airports. We readily share these on payment, as is logical, but we simply haven’t done this for broadband and communications. It’s unlikely we’ll achieve ubiquitous digital access with our current approach. There are too many problems and too few synergies, requiring radical changes in direction.
Our legacy practices have resulted in several independent, countrywide networks like arterial systems, each run by its owner/operator. These systems connect at the customer ends on their own, except when customers are outside their franchise areas. This requires massive capital investment in a multiplicity of redundant backbone and urban networks with insufficient rural coverage, for a start.
Even worse, our administrative rules are far more constraining than the technological limitations. So operators must win their own spectrum at auction as in countries with (a) not many operators and (b) more commercially available spectrum, even as technology has evolved to facilitate shared network solutions.
This creates two further obstacles for Digital India: operators must invest large sums in spectrum auctions for their exclusive-use bands, and limited bandwidth – for instance, in the 900 MHz band – must be subdivided between numerous operators at a location, resulting in suboptimal performance.