Changing the Telecom Ballgame!
One of the founding pillars of Indian telecom, Tirunelveli Viswanathan Ramachandran is credited with setting up a regulator, revamping of cellular mobile licensing, inputs for the worldclass National Telecom Policy (1999) and most importantly making COAI the accepted voice of the industry. Voice & Data honoured him this year with the ‘Lifetime Contribution Award’ at its annual Telecom Leadership Forum in March for his high impact contribution to the industry. In an interaction with him, we got to know more about him and his ‘young at heart’ spirit.
He might be 69, but his zestfulness shows the spark in him to bring in the second wave of disrupting change into the telecom sector, where he spent almost two decades nurturing the industry.
Tirunelveli Viswanathan Ramachandran, popularly known as ‘TV’ in his circle is still young at heart and wishes to be 30 years younger to contribute more to the telecom industry.
He is credited for his role as the Director General of COAI for 12 long years, where he fought for the interest of the telcos. He played an extremely important role since its birth to the stage of establishing it as Indian telecom’s most credible and respected, professional body that gained high international recognition, too.
His contributions were also critical in setting up the regulatory body TRAI, in the revamping of cellular mobile licensing, formulation of NTP’99 and many such eventful happenings.
Sipping his masala chai, Ramachandran recollects walking the corridors of the telecom department, the TRAI and many courts on a trot to bring in telecom liberalization during the 90’s, which paved the way for millions to dream big and have a mobile phone in their hands.
Though challenges were aplenty, but he moved on and carried the onus to take this industry forward, “People In September 1994, he was the first CEO of Sterling Cellular (one of the two parents of what is Vodafone India today. The other parent was Hutchison Max of Bombay) In September 1997, he set up and manage the industry body Cellular Operators of India (COAI) as its Executive Vice Chairman. The socalled ‘deputation’ from Essar for two years, went on to become a permanent assignment with COAI as its Director General. In December 2014, retired from full time service with Vodafone as Resident Director, Regulatory Affairs & Govt Relations but continuing with them as a Consultant for Policy & Regulatory Affairs. used to say ‘ TV is crazy’, but I persisted because I loved the sector,” Ramachandran says.
For Ramachandran, the tectonic shift in his career from tyres (as he spent 25 years with Dunlop) to telecom (he says both represent mobility and both start with the letter ‘T’!) was a very challenging task. Telecom was at its nascent stage when TV joined it and people hardly used to know anything about mobile telecom although National Telecom Policy (NTP)’94 was in place, but he handled this new ball game with finesse and kept moving forward.
Ramachandran was born in Chennai on October 16, 1945, in a family of two sisters and one younger brother. His father being a railway officer, had a transferable job and that’s why Ramachandran’s early upbringing took place in different places in north India as he studied junior level studies in Gujarat, Rajasthan, UP and then moved on to Chennai for high school in Hindu High school.
“As I did my junior school in north so Hindu High school was the only school where Hindi was a second language. I couldn’t pass in Tamil, so I was put into that,” he quips.
After completing his schooling, he moved on to Vivekananda College for graduation and then in 1966, he passed out from the Madras Christian College after studying MSc(Physics), with specialisation in Wireless and Electronics.
Physics was his first love as he wanted to become a physicist or engineer; second to that was Armed Forces. “I wanted to join Airforces but that did not work as nobody would have approved that in my house...anyway my eyesight was also a problem,” he says.
However, Ramachandran recalls his grandfather advising him to become a lawyer as he was an eminent judge in Madras High Court and later in the Supreme Court. “My grandfather was quite a dedicated jurist. He is used to advise me when I was a small boy...’please come into law after me. Do take over my practice