Telecom rivals Mukesh Ambani and Sunil Bharti Mittal shared virtual space on Friday while addressing an event on 25 years of mobile telephony. Stressing the need for a digital revolution, the Reliance Industries chairman said 2G telecom services should be a part of history now. Unlike Reliance Jio, other private telcos Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea have a large chunk of 2G subscribers.
Hitting out at his competition, Ambani said, “India still has 300 million mobile subscribers trapped in the 2G era.’’ He added that the feature phones of such 2G users kept them excluded even from the basic uses of the internet at a time when both India and the rest of the world were standing at the doorstep of 5G telephony. “I think necessary policy steps should be taken with utmost urgency to make 2G a part of history,” he emphasised.
The Bharti Airtel chairman sought rationalisation of levies from the government in the backdrop of severe financial stress in the sector and pending dues linked to adjusted gross revenue (AGR). Mittal said while telecom tariffs in India were the most affordable in the world, the taxes were very high, urging the government to step in and rationalise the levies. Resources like spectrum should not become a revenue earner for the exchequer, he said.
The industry captains were speaking at the Indian Mobile Congress webinar coinciding with the silver jubilee of mobile telephony in India. Mobility has become affordable beyond all expectations and therefore it’s become democratic, ceasing to be a rich man’s monopoly, according to the RIL chairman. “Cellphones have become multifunctional because of the internet and data has become both abundant and affordable,’’ he said adding that the completion of 25 years of mobile telephony is also an occasion to look at the obstacles that have prevented Indian consumers and Indian society from fully benefitting from the digital revolution.
Jio had recently announced its plan to manufacture low-cost smartphones in the country so that a feature phone user could easily switch to a smartphone. Mittal said: “What Indian telecom industry has achieved in the last 25 years is simply phenomenal — a Nation of a billion plus connected citizens and the second largest mobile market globally. For Airtel and me — as a first generation entrepreneur, it’s a matter of pride to have been at the forefront of this exhilarating journey.”
On July 31, 1995, the first mobile call was made between Writer’s Building in Kolkata and Sanchar Bhavan in Delhi. At one end was then chief minister of West Bengal Jyoti Basu and on the other side was erstwhile communications minister Sukh Ram.