August 21, 2022
Investment in the development of highly strategic indigenous technologies like 5G which can generate massive innovation and economic growth, will be critical in securing India and building a high-tech foundation for the future, as most technological developments have been seeded in the ICT sector.
We are re-uploading our original letter urging Government to adopt a Manhattan Project approach to building indigenous 5G capability in view of the enormous national security risks of inducting foreign equipment in national ICT networks. In it we had suggested setting up an organization patterned on DARPA or the Indian Space Research Organisation for implementation. ISRO is a great model as it has perfected the art of delivery of high-tech space capabilities on a shoe-string budget because of its flat organization, open exchange of ideas, and blue-sky thinking.
We are excited at fresh developments indicating a positive response to some of our long standing requests. Shri Ashwini Vaishnaw, the new and forward-looking ICTs Minister, has directed DoT/ BSNL to deliver on indigenous deployment of 4G/5G; committed 5% of the Universal Service Obligation Fund for R&D funding for domestic companies while launching the Design-Led PLI including R&D incentives for domestic companies that SITARA had requested (here and here), and launched a revival package of R.1.4 trillion for BSNL. We have been urging the Govt to use USOF for domestic R&D for years. 5% is still very little compared to the US$75 billion in support the Chinese Government gave to just one company – Huawei, but it is an important change in mindset.
We have also pointed out that no strategic National Technology Development Project can succeed without guaranteeing a market for indigenous products. BSNL only has 10% of the domestic market. So far, our companies have survived on export orders. Our request is for DoT to mandate private Telcos to procure at least 25% of their equipment from domestic sources.
We shall soon be posting our comparative study on the Chinese and Indian telecom experiences. It can be seen that massive R&D funding, a conducive FDI and Trade policy and domestic procurement were key to a successful industrial policy and eventual world market dominance by Chinese companies in this vital sector.