The Cellular Operators association of India (COAI) has been leading private sector voices in the telecommunications industry since 1994-95. It has been part of the controversies that have plagued the sector and also the benefits that the sector has brought in after private players were allowed into the state-monopoly segment. TV Ramachandran, COAI's director-general feels that India’s telecom sector is on the way to attaining maturity of the kind the US and Europe have demonstrated. In an interview with M Rajendran, he pleaded against what he called “regulatory micromanagement”. Excerpts:
Has India's telecom market matured like those in the US and Europe?
Yes and no. In some key features like tariffs, optimisation of network costs to support world’s lowest tariffs, outsourcing of non-core activities etc, we have, in fact, surpassed most markets in the US and Europe. However, we do need to improve further as regards customer service and as regards a more stable and predictable policy and regulatory environment to improve investor confidence.
Regulation seems to have less of a role in tariff matters. Are operators going to rule tariffs?
As PG Wodehouse would put it, “This is a consummation devoutly to be wished!” In such an intensively competitive market like ours, the key sign of maturity is that regulation is at a long arm’s length. However, I am afraid that in India, we are still having some extent of regulatory micromanagement and this is undesirable. In all fairness, I must also admit that the regulator is continually looking into ways and means of reducing intervention.
What major issues pending in this sector need to be resolved on priority?
First and foremost, issues concerning both 2G and 3G spectrum need to be most urgently resolved. These have been hanging fire far too long and, right or wrong, we must take a decision and go forward. Stagnation will harm the sector irreparably. Issues concerning excessive duties and levies, and interconnection are also long pending and needing urgent attention.
Do you visualise another war of technology in India, considering the scarcity of spectrum ?
If you are referring to GSM versus CDMA (in mobile phones), the answer is a clear no. Consumers settled that issue in the marketplace more than 3-4 years ago.