India’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT) issued a draft National Digital Communications Policy, 2018, on 1 May, which is in the process of being officially notified. The policy’s missions are to “connect India”, “propel India” and “secure India’ to enable next-generation technologies and services by improving infrastructural support. In order to analyse whether such strategies will foster the development of smart cities in India, the strategies proposed under the policy are outlined below.
The policy recognizes digital communications as the core of smart cities and accordingly proposes to (i) develop a common service framework and standard for smart cities, and (ii) facilitate and support implementation of innovative solutions in smart cities. While the effectiveness of the framework can only be determined after it is in place and concrete means to implement innovative solutions are identified, it is commendable that the importance of digital communications in the development of smart cities has been recognized.
The policy aims to boost digital communication infrastructure and provide broadband for public rural and urban areas, and to create the infrastructure required via public-private partnerships, including with existing infrastructure providers, to increase efficiency. This will ideally include infrastructure for robust information technology (IT) connectivity and digitalization, which is one of the core infrastructural elements of a smart city, according to the smart cities mission statement and guidelines issued by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. This will accelerate the development of smart cities and increase their utility.
The policy also proposes to promote the effective use of emerging technologies such as 5G, artificial intelligence, internet of things (IoT), cloud computing and machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, by simplifying licensing and regulatory frameworks while ensuring appropriate security frameworks for IoT, M2M, future services and network elements by adopting international best practices. All of this is welcome.
Recommendations on spectrum, roaming and quality of service-related requirements in M2M communications, issued by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on 5 September 2017, illustrate the manner in which the licensing of M2M may be regulated. TRAI primarily recommended that existing licence holders – such as access service providers using licensed access spectrum, basic services licensees, internet service provider licensees and unified licence holders (virtual network operators) – be permitted to provide M2M connectivity within their existing areas of authorization, and that only a nominal fee be charged for registering connectivity providers that want to provide M2M connectivity for commercial purposes using wireless personal area network and wireless local area network technologies (in the unlicensed spectrum). This is likely to reduce licensing concerns and so is in line with the suggested strategies under the draft National Digital Communications Policy.
M2M guidelines issued by the DoT on 16 May this year permit the use of embedded subscriber identity modules (SIMs) with single and multiple profile configurations, allowing manufacturers to use embedded M2M SIMs at the time of manufacturing any machinery. This was previously prohibited, as the end-user of an M2M SIM was to be the person in whose name the customer acquisition form was filled out when obtaining the SIM. This measure will support the development of smart solutions for smart cities in India, and is in line with the policy’s aim to promote use of emerging technologies.
The smart cities’ stated mission is to drive economic growth and improve quality of life by enabling local area development and harnessing technology. The strategies suggested under the draft National Digital Communications Policy aim to promote IT connectivity and emerging technologies. When considered in conjunction with steps already taken such as simplifying the licensing and regulatory framework for M2M and IoT, everything points to a consolidated initiative to develop smart cities. While the successful implementation of the strategies suggested under the policy is awaited, the issuance of the policy and initiatives already taken are steps in the right direction to boost smart cities in India and consequently stimulate economic growth and improve quality of life.
Sharath Chandrasekhar is a partner and Soujanya Gollapudi is an associate at HSA Advocates. HSA is a full-service ﬁrm with ofﬁces in New Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Kolkata.
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