2G still relevant: India’s regulator backs Airtel and Vodafone Idea

2G phones
Image credit | bakalusha/bigstockphoto.com

India’s telecom regulator has backed the country’s older service providers Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea saying that legacy 2G technology is still relevant and is a “well-proven” technology to connect rural areas. 

Trai’s comments come just after Reliance Industries Limited chairman Mukesh Ambani urged the Indian government to take necessary policy steps with “utmost urgency” to make India ‘2G-mukt’ or free of 2G technology.

“As regards 2G technology, it is a well-proven technology and is still popular among customers especially among far-flung and rural areas. Also, more than 25% of subscribers are still using feature phones to access communication services. It is for them that the telcos may continue operating a 2G technology service,” Trai chairman RS Sharma told India’s Economic Times in an interaction.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), Sharma said, has adopted a technology-neutral approach and even the licensing framework is technology-neutral in the country. “…therefore, it is up to the operator which technology they want to use to achieve their business interest within the ambit of the licensing framework and by keeping the interest of customers intact.”

Mukesh Ambani’s Jio earlier this year joined hands with Google to develop low-cost 4G and 5G smartphones to help migrate India’s 350 million 2G based feature phone users to 4G smartphones. 

Vodafone Idea managing director and chief executive Ravinder Takkar had also rejected Ambani’s call for a “2G-mukt” India and said that the legacy mobile technology would definitely stay as it’s an efficient and good service option for customers who don’t require smartphones.

Ambani, who’s the world’s fourth richest man, recently said that India still has 300 million mobile subscribers that are trapped in the 2G era and their feature phones keep them excluded even from the basic users of the internet at a time when both India and the rest of the world are standing at the doorsteps of 5G telephony.

Having cornered close to 400 million 4G users in India, Reliance Jio is now eyeing the country’s large 2G subscriber base which is currently using networks of Airtel, Vodafone Idea, BSNL and MTNL.

The 4G-only telco is likely to outsource the manufacturing of over 100 million low-cost smartphones that will be built on Google’s Android platform, Business Standard newspaper reported on Wednesday.

The report said that Jio will bundle these low-cost 4G smartphones with data packs to make the offering lucrative. Jio could launch these phones in December 2020 or early next year.

This is the second attempt by the telco to launch own-branded smartphones, having previously launched ‘Lyf’ branded smartphones.

Asked about his views on Jio Platform’s recent partnership with various global technology companies like Facebook, Qualcomm and Google, Trai chairman said, “As far as investments in the Jio Platforms are concerned, it is a business decision that has been taken by the investors. This has given the opportunity to leverage technology for making further innovation in the field of telecom and service delivery in India.”

Sharma added that all Indian telecom operators have brought a certain level of innovation in their service delivery and have come out with different innovative business models. “…to remain competitive and relevant in the market, it will be needed by the incumbent operators to innovate further.

He further added that collaboration with global technology companies will help Indian telecom operators develop new revenue streams. “Investments from worldwide will provide new opportunities, boost the ecosystem of applications, and push innovation to drive growth for the Indian economy.”

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