Vijay Yadav is UTStarcom’s Managing Director for South Asia responsible for overall direction and management of the South Asia operations. Prior to joining UTStarcom, Vijay worked with 3COM as Country Manager for India & SAARC, where he was responsible for building the CommWorks Business in India. Mr Vijay Yadav has 17 years of experience in the IT and telecommunications sectors and often speaks publicly about the influence these issues upon India. Vijay Yadav earned a degree in engineering and a Master’s degree in Chemistry.
Information and communication technologies are playing a critical role in India’s economic development improving productivity, reducing costs, improving delivery systems and spurring growth in sectors from education to agriculture. The Internet is now an integral part of daily life of an ever-increasing segment of India’s population. IP-based communication solutions have served as a catalyst for the growth of many of India’s inefficient, inadequate, infrastructure sectors – be it in the power and energy sector, transport or communications, health or education.
India’s economy has had the potential to grow at 8 per cent or more per year since it undertook economic and structural reforms in the early 1990s. Liberalization and increased integration with the global economy have presented India both with enormous challenges and opportunities. The good news is that India reached the milestone, an 8.1 per cent growth-rate is forecast by official agencies for 2005–2006. This would be the third year in the row India clocks growth greater than 7.5 per cent. If this growth rate is sustained in the coming years, India will easily achieve ‘developed nation’ status by 2020. Fuelling this growth momentum over last few years has been what I call the "Finger Tip Revolution" in information and communication technology (ICT). Both IT and Telecom have changed India from a slow-moving giant to a country buzzing with enormous economic activity. This is the result of the technological amalgamation – with the help of IP-based communications solutions – of the IT and communications sectors. The new, all encompassing, technology is not only impacting businesses, but also such sectors as education, health, water and sanitation, agriculture and public governance; it has ‘built pace in the economic race’. The conversion of telecommunication networks content to digital standards has created an electronic network infrastructure that facilitates the convergence of formerly discrete telecom services on a single telecom network. More recently, Internet Protocol, IP- based communications have permitted the convergence of data, pictures, music, video, and voice communication services through the Internet. Voice over IP (VoIP) is the latest major step in a convergence process that has been underway for three decades. Now, all types of services can be provided in an integrated manner over the Internet using IP. From a layman’s perspective it means that this technology provides unified communication without boundaries. The Internet Protocol (IP) is becoming the universal carrier for all communication traffic throughout the world. IP networks are growing rapidly in developing countries like India that need cost effective systems, better traffic control and quality of service. Companies using IP-based communication solutions have reported cost savings of up to 30 per cent. More importantly, the ease of adding new, standardized, features throughout the network enabled IP-based solutions to gradually replace traditional network architectures. This path-breaking technology provides clear, speedy, voice and data transmission over any distance using a single unified network in place of separate voice and data networks. Due to its cost efficiencies, speedy communication, access to new markets, faster production cycles, inventory management and demand-supply management, IP-based technological solutions have emerged as a catalyst for rapid business growth and expansion. The pervasiveness of IP and the evolution of the Internet have enabled telecom companies worldwide to capitalize on new market opportunities, generate new services, and develop a broader customer base. Proliferation of Internet and IP-based communication technology has dynamically changed both the types and quality of communication services. With the steadily growing numbers of IP-enabled devices, the use of IP has become increasingly pervasive. Countries like India are among its greatest beneficiaries, since IT and the communication infrastructure is playing a critical role in their overall economic development. IP has improved productivity, reduced costs, improved delivery systems and resulted in better targeting of beneficiaries. The Internet is seen today as an integral part of daily life by an ever increasing segment of India’s population. India’s economic march to higher and sustained development has long been hampered by lack of adequate infrastructure, be it in power and energy sector, transport or communication. The development of any infrastructure service depends, critically, upon the availability of others. The IT and communication sector, for example, can not grow without adequate power supply. The last few years have seen some improvement on this front. Coupled with the progressive and conducive policy changes, both the IT and communication sectors have marched over other infrastructure sectors. In a way, IP-based communication solutions have become the catalyst for growth in many other economic sectors. It is important to understand that IP-based solutions are not static bits of technology. They are dynamic innovations which are continuously developed and adapted to yield ever more advanced IP-enabled services. Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) made global headline in 2004. Since then, more and more companies worldwide have opted to use this technology. India is becoming a very big market for VoIP. In fact, experts predict that India will show the fastest adoption of IP applications during the coming decade. The reason is not difficult to understand. After China, India is the world’s biggest market. India’s low penetration of computers and basic and mobile telephony compared to China and other developing countries, are a measure of the tremendous potential of the market. In today’s information empowered world, with knowledge industries steering economic development, communications have emerged as a core business function. The effectiveness of a company’s communication system can greatly impact its bottom line. A well developed communication infrastructure is an essential ingredient for economic development of a country. India has already made substantial gains and today boasts the World’s largest telecom network as well as the largest telecom company in BSNL. India’s telecom sector is presently growing at about 70 per cent per annum. The correlation between IT and Telecom sector development and the development of other economic activities is becoming clearer each day. IP-based solutions including VoIP, have stimulated growth not only in telecom and related sectors, but also in sectors such as education, social development, health and public governance; the impact of these technologies is felt in the remotest of regions. Improved communication technology, for example, has even helped agricultural development. ‘e-Chaupals’ – electronic versions of the traditional village meeting place where people gather to exchange information – in Andhra Pradesh have helped farmers better understand, among other things, demand-supply synergies. The ‘e-Chaupals’ have also promoted interaction between farmers and scientists to promote better crop management, the use of fertilizers and pesticides and the use of high-yielding seeds and the like, and have increased incomes from farming. This experiment is likely to be duplicated in other states and applied to developing food processing industries, bringing still greater value to Indian agriculture. This is likely to initiate an agricultural revolution, different than the green revolution of late 1970s, but somewhat similar in outcome. ICT can help improve agriculture production, reduce uncertainties in the field, and help the two-thirds of India’s population which depends upon agriculture for its livelihood. IP-based systems are also making a substantial impact upon the retail trade in agricultural and other commodities by unifying the markets throughout the country and facilitating the effective management of supply and demand and inventories. Education, especially higher studies, has been another major beneficiary of IP-based communication systems. Distance learning has made it possible to acquire knowledge without being physically in a classroom. Besides increasing the number of educated people in the country, it has also improved the knowledge base of society. The increasing integration, the networking, of domestic and foreign institutes, universities, and research organisations has helped to maximize strengths and leverage the use of resources from around the world. In India, especially in rural regions where school drop out rates are high, ICT and IP-based technology has enticed many of the younger generation to seek and explore knowledge and, thus, has made a valuable contribution to India’s growth. IP-based solutions, VoIP in particular, are bringing the world closer by helping countries make more effective use of their skills and resources. An increasing number of American and South-East Asian companies, for example, are seeking the services of India’s skilled pool of English language speakers. Using video-conferencing and other communication channels, an English teacher in India can teach students in any other part of the world without travelling from home. The world, it seems, is finally becoming a true global village; its distances are dwindling. The healthcare sector has made rapid strides with the help of IP-based communication technology. IT and communication technology has made it possible to network resources and knowledge of hospitals and doctors throughout the world. Thanks to the IP-based solutions, specialists in one country have already guided teams of surgeons operating in another country through video-conferencing. There are a number of health facilities and services spawned by the convergence of voice and data networks. Today, heart ailments are routinely monitored at a distance; not so long ago, this could have been done only in a hospital. A marriage of IT, BT (biotechnology) and communication technology has helped human genome research projects and helped research into cloning. Without getting into the ethical questions, it is fair to say that ICT is, in a sense, helping ‘man play god to a new generation of mankind’. The targeting of beneficiaries of public services such as the Public Distribution System (PDS) for food, disaster management and public policy intervention in remote areas has been made more effective, and monitoring made less cumbersome, with the help of ICT services. A large part of rural India, though, still needs better connectivity. India’s teledensity, at around 10, compares poorly with the world average of over 40 and China’s over 42. Computer and Internet penetration and use suffer from a similar lack of penetration. The greater use of the government’s power to stimulate the growth of India’s IT and communication sector needs to be encouraged. The government’s progressive policy approach to its well-defined, pro-active, regulatory framework has facilitated large-scale private investment, substantial FDI and technological tie-ups; it has made telecom the fastest growing sector in the country. The future appears bright; India is on the threshold of a higher growth trajectory riding on ICT and IP-based applications.