Enterprise: A Growth Opportunity For The Telecom Sector

– Pranav K. Bisht, M.Tech, MBA

Networking and IT technology is increasingly becoming the focus for Indian businesses as they seek to improve productivity and create competitive advantage. Smarter connectivity helps companies achieve operational efficiency while reducing hardware costs.

Since 2011, there has been a gradual push towards software-centric telecom which features layers built on data security and artificial intelligence. Estimates from the International Data Corporation value India’s 2017 enterprise mobility market at US$ 1,871 million, driven by digitisation of workflow across organisations.

Enterprise customers increasingly value real-time tracking and data capture. The emphasis is now on cloud-based services, software as a service and office-in-a-box; there have been continued investments from major players such as Bharti Airtel, Tata Communications, Reliance and Vodafone: approximately 24% of Tata Teleservices’ customers are enterprise focused, covering both small and large businesses.  Meanwhile, Airtel offers security-based mobile apps for schools and BPOs, as well as machine to machine (M2M) communication solutions for automobile manufacturing.

Nokia provides another example of how telcos can expand into domains beyond mobile networking.  The Finnish company provided Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited with an Internet Protocol/Multiprotocol Label Switching (IP/MPLS) network which allows Tata to manage both critical grid-operation activities as well as traditional services such as customer relationship management and video surveillance on a single network.

The network also enables smart grid applications such as distributed energy resources and mobile workforce management systems .This means operators can detect the presence of faults to a localized area, containing the impact of a potential hazard.

An enterprise telecom focus is also beneficial for catalysing start-up growth. SMEs account for 45% of India’s total manufacturing output and employ around 40% of its workforce; this emerging sector is vital to our economy. In this context, they become an attractive target for telcos, who offer data protection and cloud-based services.

This translates into direct gains for telcos; Vodafone’s focus on small businesses contributed 17% to its revenue over the last fiscal year while Airtel worked with SMEs to expand its Payments Bank customer base in smaller markets. It also recently launched a new digital platform that offers cap-free internet plans to SMEs, which would help in fostering innovation.

Such an environment would require better regulatory support. In its recommendations on cloud services released in August, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) had suggested the creation of a comprehensive framework for data protection. The Supreme Court’s recent right to privacy ruling and India’s democratic systems are conducive to setting up legal ‘free zones’ that meet the appropriate cyber security and confidentiality requirements.

Another step policy makers could take to strengthen the legal framework would be the appointment of independent auditors, in line with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation which will be adopted in 2018. Better governance would inspire more investment in the sector, which grew at 13% over the last year and is expected to maintain double digit growth in this financial year as well.

Perhaps the greatest effect of the rise of enterprise telecom – as the Nokia case demonstrates – has been the shift in how telcos view themselves; they have expanded their capabilities from being ‘voice-only’ providers to complete communication providers.  Such moves towards unified communication and collaboration systems would help in accelerating the government’s Digital India vision forward.

Kewords: Digital India, Data Protection, e-governance in India, Networking and IT

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