Telecom industry in India has undergone a revolution in the recent years. Read about the growth story of Indian telecom sector.

Telecom Industry in India

The telecom industry is one of the fastest growing industries in India. India has nearly 200 million telephone lines making it the third largest network in the world after China and USA. With a growth rate of 45%, Indian telecom industry has the highest growth rate in the world.

History of Indian Telecommunications started in 1851 when the first operational land lines were laid by the government near Calcutta (seat of British power). Telephone services were introduced in India in 1881. In 1883 telephone services were merged with the postal system. Indian Radio Telegraph Company (IRT) was formed in 1923. After independence in 1947, all the foreign telecommunication companies were nationalized to form the Posts, Telephone and Telegraph (PTT), a monopoly run by the government's Ministry of Communications. Telecom sector was considered as a strategic service and the government considered it best to bring under state's control.

The first wind of reforms in telecommunications sector began to flow in 1980s when the private sector was allowed in telecommunications equipment manufacturing. In 1985, Department of Telecommunications (DOT) was established. It was an exclusive provider of domestic and long-distance service that would be its own regulator (separate from the postal system). In 1986, two wholly government-owned companies were created: the Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL) for international telecommunications and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) for service in metropolitan areas.

In 1990s, telecommunications sector benefited from the general opening up of the economy. Also, examples of telecom revolution in many other countries, which resulted in better quality of service and lower tariffs, led Indian policy makers to initiate a change process finally resulting in opening up of telecom services sector for the private sector. National Telecom Policy (NTP) 1994 was the first attempt to give a comprehensive roadmap for the Indian telecommunications sector. In 1997, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) was created. TRAI was formed to act as a regulator to facilitate the growth of the telecom sector. New National Telecom Policy was adopted in 1999 and cellular services were also launched in the same year.

Telecommunication sector in India can be divided into two segments: Fixed Service Provider (FSPs), and Cellular Services. Fixed line services consist of basic services, national or domestic long distance and international long distance services. The state operators (BSNL and MTNL), account for almost 90 per cent of revenues from basic services. Private sector services are presently available in selective urban areas, and collectively account for less than 5 per cent of subscriptions. However, private services focus on the business/corporate sector, and offer reliable, high- end services, such as leased lines, ISDN, closed user group and videoconferencing.

Cellular services can be further divided into two categories: Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) and Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA). The GSM sector is dominated by Airtel, Vodfone-Hutch, and Idea Cellular, while the CDMA sector is dominated by Reliance and Tata Indicom. Opening up of international and domestic long distance telephony services are the major growth drivers for cellular industry. Cellular operators get substantial revenue from these services, and compensate them for reduction in tariffs on airtime, which along with rental was the main source of revenue. The reduction in tariffs for airtime, national long distance, international long distance, and handset prices has driven demand.

The telecom sector is also afflicted by a number of restraints. These include:
But notwithstanding these constraints, telecom sector has undergone a revolution in the past decade and has played a major part in bridging the rural-urban divide.

Note: The above information was last updated on 21-07-2007