Telecom at a Glance

  • Modified by economic on 09.11.2017


    The Indian Telecommunications Sector has grown rapidly in the last few years. While Government reforms and initiatives have played a very important part, industry has been the major driver of this remarkable growth. India now has the second largest network in the world, next only to China. India crossed the landmark of one billion telephone subscribers in the year 2015-16, and the total subscription now stands at 1209.96 million as on 31.08.2017. Out of this, 502.50 million connections are in rural areas and 707.46 million in the urban areas. Wireless telephony constitutes 98.04% (1186.21 million) of all subscriptions whereas share of the landline telephony now stands at only 1.96% (23.75 million) at the end of August, 2017.

    The overall tele-density in India stands at 93.74% as on August 2017. In rural areas, tele-density was 56.87% and in urban areas it was 173.72% at the end of August, 2017.

    Internet and broadband penetration
    The Government has placed considerable emphasis on growth of internet and broadband in the country as part its Digital India campaign. Total internet connection in India at the end of June, 2017 stood at 431.21 million, of which 293.82 million was in urban areas and 137.39 million was in rural areas. The growth of narrow band and broadband in India over the last three years is as under:

    (In Millions)




    Total Internet Subscribers















































    Upto 30.06.2017








    Source: TRAI

    It may be seen that the total number of broadband subscribers has increased from 60.87 million at the end of March, 2014 to 300.84 million at the end of June, 2017, registering a CAGR of 45.64 percent during the period March, 2014 - June, 2017.


    A. Spectrum Management
    Radio frequency spectrum is a scarce and finite resource and, therefore, its efficient utilisation is critical to the success of the telecom industry. Keeping in view the industry requirements, a number of initiatives have been taken in this direction.

    B. Spectrum Sharing
    Spectrum sharing was allowed for the first time in India on 21stApril, 2016 when operators were allowed to pool their respective spectrum holdings for using the whole spectrum block (which was the sum of their respective holdings). As on today, spectrum is being shared by two service providers in 21 out of 22 service areas. Since spectrum efficiency increases exponentially with the size of the spectrum block, spectrum sharing has helped multiply spectrum efficiency many times without the need of additional spectrum, besides generating additional revenue for the Government.

    C. Spectrum Trading
    In another measure aimed at facilitating optimization of resources, the government has permitted trading of Spectrum by allowing an Access Service Provider (Seller) to transfer spectrum usage rights and obligations to another Access Service Provider (Buyer). This is meant to facilitate optimisation of resources. The first such trade took place on 17thMay, 2016 and this facility has thereafter been utilised by a number of telecom service providers. Spectrum trading enables telecom players to sell their spectrum and exit leading to consolidation in the sector. This has helped reduce the number of service providers from 10 to 8, thereby reducing fragmentation of spectrum. Trading also facilitates ease of doing business through greater competition, incentives for innovation, better/new services being available to consumers at cheaper tariffs

    D. Spectrum Harmonisation
    The high point of spectrum management has been the harmonisation of spectrum in 800 MHz and 1800 MHz bands that was carried out from April to September, 2016 resulting in rationalisation of spectrum holdings of telecom service providers, and transferring defence holdings to the defence bands. Consequentially, about 197 MHz of additional spectrum was recovered from its erstwhile use as guard and separation bands and was sold for more than Rs. 15000 crores in the October, 2016 auction. Harmonization of spectrum has helped improve quality of service by making fragmented frequency spots contiguous for efficient utilisation by service providers and making more spectrum available for the auction conducted in October, 2016.

    E. Spectrum Auction
    India has suffered from a chronic shortage of spectrum. This was dealt with decisively through the mega auction of spectrum in 700, 800, 900, 1800, 2100, 2300 & 2500 MHz bands that was concluded successfully in October, 2016. The auction sold 965 MHz of spectrum in different bands, which is more than 929 MHz sold cumulatively in last four auctions from 2012 to 2015. The auction also fetched a total amount of Rs 66,000 crore, and highest ever upfront payment of Rs 33,000 crore since 2012.

    The auction of October, 2016 was the most complex and sophisticated auction of natural resources and was conducted smoothly & transparently, without any glitch. The auction addressed the issue of spectrum scarcity in the country and call drops.


    To enable India’s transition into a digital economy and knowledge society large investment in infrastructure, both optical fibre cable and towers, for wireless transmission is required. The Government is committed to extending the reach of the mobile network to the remaining 50,000 remote and rural villages with support from the Universal Services Obligation Fund. In addition, investments are being made to lay optical fibre cable for high speed broadband connectivity in rural areas. The following initiatives have been taken in the last year:

    A. BharatNet
    For the deeper digital penetration in rural areas, the Government has taken up BharatNet initiative to link each of the 2.5 lakh Gram Panchayats of India through Broadband optical fibre network. On its completion, BharatNet would facilitate Broadband connectivity for over 600 million rural citizens of the country. This is the largest rural connectivity project of its kind in the world, and is rightfully identified as the first pillar of Digital India Programme. It will facilitate the delivery of various e-Services and applications including e-health, e-education, e-governance and e-commerce.

    Implementation of the programme has been ramped up since last year. Phase-1 of the project, that targeted connecting 1 lakh Gram Panchayats, through Optical Fibre Cable, is nearing completion. As of 5th Nov, 2017 1,03,275 GPs have been connected by laying 2,38,677 KMs. Optical Fibre Cable. Of these, 75,082 Gram Panchayat locations are ready for broadband services.

    B. Network for Left Wing Extremism Areas
    Department of Telecom executed a project for providing Mobile Services in 2199 locations in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, which are affected by Left Wing Extremism (LWE). This large project was completed in a short period of 18 months and has brought connectivity to about 3000 villages and helped in the operation of security forces.

    C. Connecting the Unconnected
    The Government has approved a Comprehensive Telecom Development Plan for North East Region to be funded from Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF). The total cost of plan is Rs. 5,336.18 crore. This project will connect 8621 villages through installation of 321 mobile tower sites.

    The Department is also implementing a project for laying 2164.23 km of Submarine Optical Fibre Cable between Mainland (Chennai) and Port Blair and five other islands namely Car Nicobar, Little Andaman, Havelock, Kamorta and Great Nicobar Islands of Andaman & Nicobar Islands.

    D. Wi-Fi Hotspots
    The Department decided, in April 2016, that Outdoor Public Wi-Fi Access Points (OPAP), for last mile connectivity are to be provisioned in the BharatNet network to provide discernible value addition in the BharatNet for citizens. Accordingly, the Department has now approved a proposal to setup 25,000 Public Wi-Fi Hotspots using the block-level infrastructure of BSNL’s Telephone Exchanges in rural areas, at an estimated cost of Rs 789.22 crore to be funded from USOF.

    Community Service Centre (CSC) - SPV has setup of 5,000 Wi-Fi Chaupals at Gram Panchayat levels in 14 States, at an estimated cost of Rs 100 crore, funded through USOF.
    In addition to the above, BharatNet Phase-2 aims provision of community Wi-Fi services at all 2.5 lakh Gram Panchayats.


    Department of Telecom has taken some significant measures to improve the ease of doing business. These include:

    A. Right of Way Rules
    The Central Government has notified the Indian Telegraph Right of Way Rules, 2016 to regulate underground infrastructure (optical fibre) and overground infrastructure (mobile towers). This rule is applicable to all telecom service providers holding a licence issued under sub-section (1) of section 4 of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885.These rules have simplified the grant of right of way permissions for creation of telecom infrastructure by making it transparent and time-bound. Under the new Rules, applications for laying fibre underground cable as well as for setting up telecom towers have to be accepted or rejected within a period of 60 days failing which application will be deemed to have been approved. All Government agencies and municipal bodies will also have to establish an electronic interface to receive and process Right of Way permission within one year from coming into force of these Rules in November, 2016. Further, telecom infrastructure cannot be shut down without following due process. This measure is expected to facilitate an increase in the pace of creation of infrastructure both in both rural and urban areas.

    B. Aadhaar Based e-KYC for New Subscribers
    The Government has prescribed an ‘Aadhaar based E-KYC services’ for issuing mobile connections from September, 2016. Under this, a subscriber can authenticate himself using his biometrics at the point of sale and obtain a new activated sim-card in 30 minutes. When manually done, this process takes almost a day and involves a lot of paper work. In addition to simplifying the process this also ensures security assurance and is an environment friendly measure saving more than 50,000 trees annually.

    C. Introduction of Virtual Network Operators (VNO)
    The Government has issued guidelines for UL(VNO) on 31st May, 2016. VNO system allows Telecom Service Providers to utilise their networks and spectrum efficiently by sharing active and passive infrastructure. Further, VNOs can provide services in small towns and rural areas using the network of existing TSPs having unutilised capacity or by last mile connectivity. This apart, the VNOs can be effective in providing services in airports or buildings or in smart cities. DoT has issued VNO licenses to 106 entities as on 31st Oct, 2017

    D. Active Infrastructure sharing
    The Government issued a notification on 11.2.2016 permitting sharing of active infrastructure amongst service providers based on mutual agreements. The active sharing would cover antenna, feeder cable, Node B, Radio Access network (RAN) and transmission systems. This measure would help in provision of better and speedy services to the consumers while alleviating the cost burden incurred by the operators for laying telecom infrastructure.

    E. Abolition of Wireless Operating License for Telecom Service Providers
    To facilitate ease of doing business, Department of Telecom has abolished Wireless Operating License(WOL) for Access Service Providers from 2nd November, 2016. Earlier WOL was required for any transreceiver deployed in the telecom network by telecom service providers. This would obviate the need for endorsement by Department of Telecom and result in consequential convenience to Telecom companies. Furthermore, this would prevent the delay in utilization of scarce infrastructure as radio transmission can be started immediately on installation of base stations without waiting for obtaining clearance from Department of Telecom.


    Foreign Direct Investment has played a crucial role in the development of the telecom sector in general, and financing of telecom infrastructure in particular.

    The FDI flows in the Telecom sector in the last few years have been as follows:


    Rs. Crore

    US $ billion













    2017-18 (Up to June 2017)



    April 2000 –June, 2017



    Source: DIPP

    FDI received during April-June, 2017 is ₹565 crore. Cumulatively, FDI was ₹1,30,729 crores during April 2000 - June, 2017. This huge inflow of FDI is a resounding acknowledgment of the faith of global community in Government policy, reforms and measures taken towards ease of doing business, as well as in the bright prospects of the telecom sector in the country.


    A. Full Mobile Number Portability (MNP)
    Government has allowed One Nation - Full Mobile Number Portability (MNP) recently.  This has enabled the subscribers to change their licence service area and still retain their mobile number. MNP also allows subscribers to retain their existing mobile number when they switch from one telecom service provider to another irrespective of technology or service area limitation. This also helps in developing mobile numbers as an identity of individuals for providing various government services and harness the power of JAM (Jan Dhan-Aadhar-Mobile) Trinity.

    B. All new mobiles to have panic button from 2017
    A Gazette Notification was issued on 22-04-2016 for implementation of Panic Button feature in all mobile phone handsets. Mobile phone handset manufacturers have intimated that they have implemented panic button in all their mobile handsets (smart as well as feature phones) that are being sold in India from 01-03-2017. GPS facility in mobile phone handsets will be mandatory w.e.f 1st January 2018.

    C. Single number 112
    Instructions with regard to Single emergency number 112 along with detailed operational guidelines in this regard were issued to all Telecom Service Providers on 04-05-2016. DOT has instructed TSPs to map Single Emergency Number ‘112’ with existing Emergency Number ‘100’ in all state/UTs in August 2016. At present Single Emergency Number 112 is operational with mapped on existing emergency number ‘100’ in all state/UT except Delhi. 112’ is designed to be used to replace the multiplicity of Emergency Numbers operations in India such as 100, 101, 102 and 108 etc. The project is to be made operational by all States/UTs under the supervision of Ministry of Home Affairs through PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point). When an emergency call is received at the PSAP, it would be answered by a specially trained officer/call taker/operator of respective state/UT that will transfer the call on the type of emergency, dispatchers to police, fire medical and other response mechanisms.

    D. Cable TV network for providing broadband services
    It is estimated that there are about 100 million Cable TV subscribers in the country, out of which only 1.06 million receive broadband services through cable network. To incorporate enabling provisions in the current regulatory framework so that existing infrastructure including Cable TV networks are optimally utilised for extending high quality broadband services in rural areas also, an Inter-Ministerial Committee under the Chairmanship of Cabinet Secretary has been constituted to take a view on convergence of Cable TV network for providing broadband services.


    A. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has been signed between Department of Post(DoP), BBNL and BSNL for providing Broadband services at the Post Offices of the DoP by utilising the infrastructure created under BharatNet project at the Gram Panchayats as part of Digital India initiative.

    B. Keeping in view the health and safety of citizens, DoT has prescribed strict norms for exposure limit for the Base Station Emissions. These norms are stricter than the ones recommended by International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) as well as World Health Organization (WHO). Further, DoT has taken adequate steps to ensure that Telecommunications Service Providers strictly adhere to the prescribed norms. Department of Telecom has also launched Tarang Sanchar, a web portal for Information sharing on Mobile Towers and EMF Emission Compliances, with a view to generate confidence with regard to safety of mobile towers, clearing any myths and misconceptions about emissions. The portal has the complete collated technical details of over 16.4 lakh base stations (BTSs) spread across the country covering all technologies (2G, 3G, 4G etc.) and of all Telecom Service Providers (TSPs).

    C. Both Government and TRAI are taking all possible steps and pursuing with the TSPs to address the problem of call drop and bring it down within the permissible limit.

    D. Machine to Machine (M2M) Communications: Department of Telecommunications launched the National Telecom Machine to Machine Roadmap’ on 12th May, 2015. The Roadmap document endeavours to assimilate various M2M standards, outline policy and regulatory approaches and measures for increased M2M proliferation. It includes International M2M scenario, prevailing communication technologies, standardization activities and adapting them to suit Indian conditions in different sectors. An inter-Ministerial Group has been constituted.

    E. IPv6: The ‘Digital India’ programme aims to connect all gram panchayats by broadband Internet, promote e-governance and transform India into a connected knowledge economy. Accordingly, ‘Compendium on IPv6 based Solutions /Architecture/ Case Studies for Different Industry Verticals’ was released by the Department for the benefit of the ecosystem


    To give impetus to the rural telephony, the Government in June, 2002, had established Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) by an Act of Parliament. Subsequently, the scope of USOF was widened to provide subsidy support for enabling access to all types of telegraph services including mobile services, broadband connectivity and creation of infrastructure like optical fiber in rural and remote areas. Therefore, various schemes have been launched by USOF for provision of telecom services in rural and remote areas of the country.


    TRAI has played catalytic role in the development of the telecom, broadcasting and cable services. It has been its endeavour to provide an environment, which is fair and transparent, encourages competition, promotes a level-playing field for all service providers, protects the interest of consumers and enables technological benefits to one and all. A number of recommendations on various telecom issues were made by TRAI during 2016-17. TRAI has also taken steps to ensure the quality of service provided by the service providers by way of monitoring the performance of Basic and Cellular Mobile Telephone Service on quarterly basis and Point of Interconnection (POI) congestion on monthly basis. The regulatory measures taken by TRAI facilitate orderly growth of telecom sector by promoting healthy competition and enhancing investment efficiency besides protecting the interest of consumers.


    DoT has the following PSUs under its administrative control:
    a) Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL)
    b) Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL)
    c) ITI Limited
    d) Telecommunications Consultants India Limited (TCIL)
    e) Bharat Broadband Network Limited (BBNL)
    f) Hemisphere Properties India Limited (HPIL)


    Government is in the process of formulating the New Telecom Policy, targeted to be released in 2018, after holding wide range of consultations with various stakeholders. The Policy shall be governed by key guiding principle of alignment with National Vision. The major themes that new Telecom Policy shall try to address include, Regulatory & Licensing frameworks impacting the sector, Connectivity for All, Quality of Services, Ease of Doing Business and Absorption of New Technologies including 5G and IoT.

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