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Communications in India

For the past decade or so, telecommunication activities have gained momentum in India. Efforts have been made from both governmental and non-governmental platforms to enhance the infrastructure. The idea is to help modern telecommunication technology penetrate India’s socio-culturally diverse society, and to transform it into a nation of technology aware people.

Modern Growth

A large population, low telephony penetration levels, and rise in consumer income and spending to strong economic growth have contributed to making India the fastest-growing telecom market in the world. The first and largest operator is the state-owned incumbent BSNL, which is also the 7th largest telecom company in world in terms of number of subscribers.BSNL was created by corporatization of the erstwhile DTS (Department of Telecommunication Services), a government unit responsible for provision of telephony services. Subsequently, after the telecommunication policy was revised to allow private operators, companies such as Bharti Telecom, Tata Indicom, Vodafone, MTNL, and BPL have entered the space.However, rural India still lacks strong infrastructure.

The total number of telephones in the country crossed the 300 million mark on June 18 2008 The overall tele-density has increased to 26.89% in June 2008.Telecom Regulatory Authority of India,Information note to the Press (Press Release No. 61 / 2007), 20 Jun 2007 In the wireless segment, 8.77 million subscribers have been added in January 2008 while 8.11 million subscribers were added in December 2007. The total wireless subscribers (GSM, CDMA & WLL (F)) base is more than 270 million now. The wireline segment subscriber base stood at 39.22 million with a decline of 0.03 million in January 2008.


Telecom in the real sense means transfer of information between two distant points in space. The popular meaning of telecom always involves electrical signals and nowadays people exclude postal or any other raw telecommunication methods from its meaning. Therefore, the history of Indian telecom can be started with the introduction of telegraph.

Introduction of Telegraph

The postal and telecom sectors had a slow and uneasy start in India. In 1850, the first experimental electric telegraph Line was started between Kolkata and Diamond Harbour. In 1851, it was opened for the British East India Company. The Posts and Telegraphs department occupied a small corner of the Public Works Department, at that time. Construction of 4,000 miles (6,400 km) of telegraph lines connecting Kolkata (Calcutta) and Peshawar in the north via Agra, Mumbai (Bombay) through Sindwa Ghats, and Chennai in the south, as well as Ootacamund and Bangalore was started in November 1853. Dr. William O'Shaughnessy, who pioneered telegraph and telephone in India, belonged to the Public Works Department. He tried his level best for the development of telecom through out this period. A separate department was opened in 1854 when telegraph facilities were opened to the public.

Introduction of the Telephone

In 1880, two telephone companies namely The Oriental Telephone Company Ltd. and The Anglo-Indian Telephone Company Ltd. approached the Government of India to establish telephone exchanges in India. The permission was refused on the grounds that the establishment of telephones was a Government monopoly and that the Government itself would undertake the work. By 1881, the Government changed its earlier decision and a licence was granted to the Oriental Telephone Company Limited of England for opening telephone exchanges at Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai (Madras) and Ahmedabad. January 28, 1882, is a Red Letter Day in the history of telephone in India. On this day Major E. Baring, Member of the Governor General of India's Council declared open the Telephone Exchange in Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai. The exchange at Kolkata named "Central Exchange" was opened at third floor of the building at 7, Council House Street. The Central Telephone Exchange had 93 number of subscribers. Bombay also witnessed the opening of Telephone Exchange in 1882.

Further developments

  • 1902 - First wireless telegraph station established between Saugor Islands and Sandheads.
  • 1907 - First Central Battery of telephones introduced in Kanpur.
  • 1913-1914 - First Automatic Exchange installed in Shimla.
  • July 23,1927 - Radio-telegraph system between the UK and India.
  • 1933 - Radiotelephone system inaugurated between the UK and India.
  • 1953 - 12 channel carrier system introduced.
  • 1960 - First subscriber trunk dialing route commissioned between Kanpur and Lucknow.
  • 1975 - First PCM system commissioned between Mumbai City and Andheri telephone exchanges.
  • 1976 - First digital microwave junction introduced.
  • 1979 - First optical fiber system for local junction commissioned at Pune.
  • 1980 - First satellite earth station for domestic communications established at Secunderabad,Andhra Pradesh.
  • 1983 - First Analog signal Stored Program Control exchange for trunk lines commissioned at Mumbai.
  • 1984 - C-DOT] established for indigenous development and production of digital exchanges.
  • 1985 - First mobile telephone service started on non-commercial basis in Delhi.

While all the major cities and towns in the country were linked with telephones during the British period, the total number of telephones in 1948 was only around 80,000. Even after independence, growth was extremely slow. The number of telephones grew leisurely to 980,000 in 1971, 2.15 million in 1981 and 5.07 million in 1991.

India, emerging as a major player

In 1975, the Department of Telecom (DoT) was separated from P&T. DoT was responsible for telecom services in entire country until 1985 when Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) was carved out of DoT to run the telecom services of Delhi and Mumbai. In 1990s the telecom sector was opened up by the Government for private investment as a part of Liberalisation-Privatization-Globalization policy. Therefore, it became necessary to separate the Government's policy wing from its operations wing. The Government of India corporatised the operations wing of DoT on October 01, 2000 and named it as Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL). Many private operators, such as Reliance India Mobile, Tata Telecom, Vodafone, BPL, Bharti, Idea etc., successfully entered the high potential Indian telecom market.

Liberalisation of telcommunications in India

The Indian government was composed of many factions (parties) which had different ideologies. Some of them were willing to throw open the market to foreign players (the centrists) and others wanted the government to regulate infrastructure and restrict the involvement of foreign players. Due to this political background it was very difficult to bring about liberalization in telecommunications.

Liberalization started in 1981 when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi signed contracts with Alcatel CIT of France to merge with the state owned Telecom Company (ITI), in an effort to set up 5,000,000 lines per year. But soon the policy was let down because of opposition from leaders of the opposite political party.During this period, after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, under the leadership of Rajiv Gandhi, many public sector organizations were set up like the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) , VSNL and MTNL. Many technological developments took place in this regime but still foreign players were not allowed to participate in the telecommunications business.

The demand for telephones was ever increasing. It was during this period that the P.N Rao led government introduced the national telecommunications policy [NTP] in 1994 which brought changes in the following areas: ownership, service and regulation of telecommunications infrastructure. They were also successful in establishing joint ventures between state owned telecom companies and international players. But still complete ownership of facilities was restricted only to the government owned organizations.

During this period, the World Bank and ITU had advised the Indian Government to liberalize long distance services in order to release the monopoly of the state owned DoT and VSNL; and to enable competition in the long distance carrier business which would help reduce tariff's and better the economy of the country.The country was divided into 20 telecommunication circles for basic telephony and 18 circles for mobile services. These circles were divided into category A, B and C depending on the value of the revenue in each circle.For cellular service two service providers were allowed per circle and a 15 years license was given to each provider.

After 1995 the government set up TRAI [Telecom Regulatory Authority of India] which reduced the interference of Government in deciding tariffs and policy making. The DoT opposed this. The political powers changed in 1999 and the new government was more pro-reforms and introduced better liberalization policies.

After March 2000, the government became more liberal in making policies and issuing licenses to private operators. The government further reduced license fees and increased the allowable stake to 74% for foreign companies. Because of all these factors, the service fees finally reduced and the call costs were cut greatly.

Growth of mobile technology

India has become one of the fastest-growing mobile markets in the world.The mobile services were commercially launched in August 1995 in India. In the initial 5-6 years the average monthly subscribers additions were around 0.05 to 0.1 million only and the total mobile subscribers base in December 2002 stood at 10.5 millions. However, after the number of proactive initiatives taken by regulator and licensor, the monthly mobile subscriber additions increased to around 2 million per month in the year 2003-04 and 2004-05.

Growth was tardy in the early years because of the high price of hand sets as well as the high tariff structure of mobile telephones. The New Telecom Policy in 1999, the industry heralded several pro consumer initiatives.The number of mobile phones added throughout the country in 2003 was 16 million, followed by 22 million in 2004, 32 million in 2005 and 65 million in 2006. The only country with more mobile phones than India with 246 million mobile phones is China – 408 million.

India has opted for the use of both the GSM (global system for mobile communications)]and CDMA (code-division multiple access)technologies in the [mobile phone|mobile]sector.

The mobile tariffs in India have also become lowest in the world. A new mobile connection can be activated with a monthly commitment of US$5 only. In 2005 alone 32 million handsets were sold in India.

Present scenerio

In the fixed line arena, BSNL and MTNL are the [incumbents] in their respective areas of operation and continue to enjoy the dominant service provider status in the domain of fixed line services. For example BSNL controls 79% of fixed line share in the country. On the other hand, in the mobile telephony space, Airtel controls 21.4% subscriber base followed by Reliance with 20.3%, BSNL with 18.6%, Vodafone with 14.7%.

Next generation networks

In the Next Generation [Telecommunications network|Networks], multiple access networks can connect customers to a core network based on IP technology. These access networks include fibre optics or coaxial cable networks connected to fixed locations or customers connected through wi-fi as well as to 3G networks connected to mobile users. As a result, in the future, it would be impossible to identify whether the next generation network is a fixed or mobile network and the broadband wirelessaccess would be used both for fixed and mobile services.

Indian telecom networks are not so intensive as developed country’s telecom networks and India's teledensity is low only in rural areas. 670,000 route kilometers (419,000 miles) of optical fibres has been laid in India by the major operators, even in remote areas and the process continues. BSNL alone, has laid optical fibre to 30,000 Telephone Exchanges out of their 35,000 Exchanges. Fibre network can be easily converted to Next Generation network and then used for delivering multiple services at cheap cost.

Revenue and growth

The total revenue in the telecom service sector was Rs. 86,720 crore in 2005-06 as against Rs. 71, 674 crore in 2004-2005, registering a growth of 21%. The total investment in the telecom services sector reached Rs. 200,660 crore in 2005-06, up from Rs. 178,831 crore in the previous fiscal.

Telecommunication is the lifeline of the rapidly growing Information Technology industry. Internet subscriber base has risen to 6.94 million in 2005- 2006. Out of this 1.35 million were broadband connections.

Under the Bharat Nirman Programme, the Government of India will ensure that 66,822 revenue villages in the country, which have not yet been provided with a Village Public Telephone (VPT), will be connected.

It is difficult to ascertain fully the employment potential of the telecom sector but the enormity of the opportunities can be gauged from the fact that there were 3.7 million Public Call Offices in December 2005 up from 2.3 million in December 2004.

The value added services (VAS) market within the mobile industry in India has the potential to grow from $500 million in 2006 to a whopping $10 billion by 2009.

Service providers in India

Basic service licencees

Until recently, only the BSNL and MTNL were allowed to provide Basic Phone Service through copper wires in India. MTNL is operating in Delhi and Mumbai only and all other parts are covered by BSNL. However private operators have now entered the fray, although their focus is largely on the cellular business which is growing rapidly.

Vigilance Telecom Monitoring (VTM) Cells

The boost in Indian Telecom market has also given rise to illegal setups and practices. Following the directives issued by the Minister of Communications & IT,Govt of India, the Department of Telecom has set up Vigilance Telecom Monitoring Cells at Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad and other important locations to vigorously detect the illegal Telecom setups in the country. VTM cells continuously monitor the operators to check the grey market calls and also ensure that the license conditions are fully complied.


Telephony Subscribers (Wireless and Landline): 343.87 million (August 2008)

Cellphones: 305.24 million (August 2008)

Land Lines: 38.63 million (August 2008)

Yearly Cellphone Addition: 83 million (2007)

Monthly Cellphone Addition: 9.16 million (August 2008)

Teledensity: 29.83% (August 2008)

Projected teledensity: 500 million, 40% of population by 2010.

Broadband connection: 4.73 million (August 2008)

Telephone system: The Mobile telecommunications system in India is the second largest in the world and it was thrown open to private players in the 1990s. The country is divided into multiple zones, called circles (roughly along state boundaries). Government and several private players run local and long distance telephone services. Competition has caused prices to drop and calls across India are one of the cheapest in the world.

Landlines: Landline service in India is primarily run by BSNL/MTNL and Reliance Infocomm though there are several other private players too. Landlines are facing stiff competition from mobile telephones. The competition has forced the landline services to become more efficient. The landline network quality has improved.

Mobile Cellular: The mobile service has seen phenomenal growth since 2000. In September 2004, the number of mobile phone connections have crossed fixed-line connections. Currently there are an estimated 201.29 million mobile phone users in India compared to 39.73 million fixed line subscribers. India primarily follows the GSM mobile system, in the 900 MHz band. Recent operators also operate in the 1800 MHz band. The dominant players are Airtel, Reliance Infocomm, Vodafone, Idea cellular and BSNL/MTNL.

Dialling System: On landlines, intra circle calls are considered local calls while inter circle are considered long distance calls. For long distance calls, you dial the area code prefixed with a zero (e.g. For calling Delhi, you would dial 011-XXXX XXXX). For international calls, you would dial "00" and the country code+area code+number. The country code for India is 91.

Call Rates Slashed: Communication rates in India fell sharply after the year 2000 when infrastructure improvements and entry of many major players made Indian Telecom a highly competitive sector.

Internet Users: Number of Internet users in India is the 4th largest in the world. Internet population is expected to grow to 100 million users by 2007. Though the number of internet users is high, the penetration level is still lower than most countries across the globe.

Broadband Internet access

Broadband connections have continued growth since beginning on 2006. At the end of August 2008 total broadband connections in the country have reached 4.73 million. However the definition of broadband is pretty constrained in India compared to other countries. A 256 kbit/s always on connection is the definition of broadband in India compared to 2 Mbit/s in other countries.However most ISPs,especially the Government managed companies are now offering speeds up to 2 Mbit/s.

BSNL, Sify, MTNL, STPI, Airtel, Netcom, Reliance and Hathway are some of the major ISPs in India. TRAI has defined broadband as 256 kbit/s or higher. However, many ISPs advertise their service as broadband but don't offer the suggested speeds. Broadband in India is more expensive as compared to Western Europe/UK and USA.

After economic liberalization in 1992, many private ISPs have entered the market, many with their own local loop and gateway infrastructures. The telecom services market is regulated by TRAI.

Because of the increase in ISPs and the quality of service Qos, It became cheaper from around the world.

Airtel and BSNL have launched 8 Mbit/s broadband internet services in selected areas recently . For home users , the maximum speed for unlimited downloads is 1 Mbit/s , available for USD 60.


Submarine cables


Radio broadcast stations: Amplitude modulation(AM) 153, Frequency modulation[FM] 91,shortwave 68 (1998)

Radios:116 million (1997)

Television terrestrial broadcast stations: 562 (of which 82 stations have 1 kW or greater power and 480 stations have less than 1 kW of power) (1997)

Televisions:110 million (2006)

In India, only the government owned Doordarshan (Door = Distant = Tele, Darshan = Vision) is allowed to broadcast terrestrial television signals. It initially had one major National channel [DD National] and a Metro channel in some of the larger cities.

There are no regulations against ownership of satellite dish antennas, or operation of cable television systems, which led to an explosion of viewership and channels, led by the Star TV group and Zee TV. Initially restricted to music and entertainment channels, viewership grew, giving rise to several channels in regional languages and many in the national language, Hindi. In the late 1990s, many current affairs and news channels sprouted, becoming immensely popular because of the alternative viewpoint they offered compared to Doordarshan.

Here is a reasonably comprehensive List of Indian television stations.

Internet Users:60,000,000 (September 2007). Source: Internet World Stats

Broadband Subscribers:Broadband in India is defined as 256 kbit/s and above by the government regulator. Total subscribers were 2.3 million (April 2007). Source: TRAI

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) & Hosts:86,571 (2004). Source: CIA World FactBook

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