TOW­ER­ING TELE­COM

ARUNA SUN­DARARA­JAN IS SET­TING THE AGENDA FOR THE TELE­COM SEC­TOR’S NEXT PHASE OF GROWTH.

Business Today - - THE MOST POWERFUL WOMEN IN BUSINESS - BY MANU KAUSHIK

WHY SHE MAT T E RS Her de­ci­sions will de­cide if In­dia can meet its tar­get of at­tract­ing $ 100 bil­lion in­vest­ment in tele­com by 2022

ARUNA SUN­DARARA­JAN is be­hind the key de­ci­sions that will set the agenda for the tele­com sec­tor for years to come.

When Aruna Sun­darara­jan took full charge as the tele­com sec­re­tary in June last year, the sec­tor was go­ing through a crit­i­cal phase — con­sol­i­da­tion was at its peak, ris­ing com­pe­ti­tion was hit­ting the fi­nan­cial health of the sec­tor, and data and voice con­sump­tion was go­ing off the charts.

She was in­stru­men­tal in pre­par­ing the new dig­i­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tions pol­icy – NDCP 2018 – that now awaits cabi­net ap­proval. Scep­tics have raised con­cerns over the gov­ern­ment’s am­bi­tious tar­get to at­tract $100 bil­lion in­vest­ment in the sec­tor by 2022. She ex­plains that even though In­dia is the sec­ond-largest mar­ket, it’s pos­si­ble that over the next 10 years, it will ac­tu­ally be­come the largest. “China is in­vest­ing $70 bil­lion in tele­com ev­ery year – that’s $350 bil­lion in five years. We are say­ing only $100 bil­lion. It’s the kind of in­vest­ment that you would re­quire if you want 100 per cent of your tow­ers to be fiberised, smart city in­fra­struc­ture to come up, broad­band pen­e­tra­tion to reach ev­ery cit­i­zen, and en­able 5G,” she says.

Sun­darara­jan, a 1982 batch IAS of­fi­cer of the Ker­ala cadre, be­lieves that the cur­rent tar­iff war be­tween the three large oper­a­tors – Voda­fone Idea Ltd, Bharti Air­tel and Re­liance Jio – will con­tinue un­til 2019 or the first quar­ter of 2020 af­ter which fun­da­men­tals of the mar­ket will take over and oper­a­tors will start fo­cus­ing on mon­eti­sa­tion. “I think that even for Jio, there’s a trend to­wards mon­eti­sa­tion. Jio has the same com­pul­sion as oth­ers… once they have a re­spectable [sub­scriber] share, they will come in line with the rest of the sec­tor. This tar­iff war will shift to a ser­vice war,” she says.

Sun­darara­jan has a lot on her plate. She has to im­prove the qual­ity of ser­vices – a per­sis­tent prob­lem – and making In­dia a win­ner in the 5G sweep­stakes. “We have to do a lot of work on the qual­ity of ser­vices…the way voice and data has grown, our in­fra­struc­ture growth has not kept pace,” she says.

Sun­darara­jan says that the roadmap to de­velop 5G ca­pa­bil­i­ties in the coun­try is evolv­ing quite well. “The key in the fu­ture is go­ing to be how much IPR we can gen­er­ate. We have the ca­pa­bil­i­ties but most IPRs are re­sid­ing with for­eign com­pa­nies,” she adds.

For a bu­reau­crat with a ca­reer span­ning around 36 years, she says the cur­rent job has been the most chal­leng­ing for her.

Tele­com Sec­re­tary andChair­man, Tele­com Com­mis­sion ARUNA SUN­DARARA­JAN

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