Recap 2010 : The Great Telecom Saga(s)!

This year, the Telecom industry gave us more twists and turns than the ever thickening plots of 2 Christopher Nolan and Stanley Kubrick films combined! I’m not sure how that would work, but basically there were a lot. Many more than we would care for, yet had to keep up because the direct affect it has on our lives.

3 stories played out simultaneously and separately as the year began. But as the year went on, the plots began interweaving. And even as the year ended, neither story has unravelled itself completely making sure we’re hooked and waiting for the sequel – 2011. Mobile Number Portability was ‘carried’ over from last year. Early in the year, 3G Auctions and MNP were given deadlines of February and March respectively. But any relief was short lived. And we should have guessed it would all go wrong again when MNP was given an April Fool’s deadline. And it was postponed again to the end of June, causing Rajiv to christen it Mobile Number Postponability. Meanwhile the 3G auctions were finally given the nod and began in April. Bids rose to astronomical values, and then went up, up and away finally netting the Indian Government a whopping 67,719 crore.

mnp

With such prices we began wondering whether 3G would actually be affordable given the amount of money telcos had to pay for spectrum, when there was already news that the sector was under pressure thanks to the price war that was unfolding around the same time. With The Auctions (finally!) over, eager to be early adopters started licking their lips at the prospect of 3G connections. But come July, MNP was postponed again, this time to October 31st. Around the same time, the third big telecom story of the year started veering its head. The government resurrected a 2 year old monster and resumed its bid to get RIM to allow it to snoop. And this time, they added Google and Skype to the list too. Giving the Blackberry a mere 15 days to comply. But it was given a reprieve later in July, with the Government  extending the deadline.

3G Thumb

What followed was a couple of months of RIM Proposes and India Disposes but extends deadlines. Amidst demands that RIM set up servers in India and give Indian security agencies Real Time access to BBM and their corporate email services. The security establishment also began eyeing all VPN services providers and exploring the possibility of manufacturing encrypted SIM cards locally. More on security in a bit.

The October 31st deadline for Mobile Number Portability wasn’t met either and it was rescheduled for November 1st and then immediately to November 25th – with a target for Pan India Availability by the end of the year. But Telcos resisted, stating shortage of technical staff at hand during the holiday period and finally committed to a Jan 31st deadline.

The 3G saga too continued to unfold all this while. After the auction and amidst much debate over whether 3G will be sustainable, affordable, magical and live up to its promise – Tata DoCoMo became the first two announce its 3G services. Giving all its subscribers free 3G services for a week during the Diwali period. Airtel and Reliance both revealed that they would begin 3G services during the calendar year and Vodafone targeted the first quarter of 2011. Reliance came through in mid december, launching its 3G services in 3 metros. It seemed, that everything was falling into place..but..

mobile-phone-blocked

The security establishment woke up again and realized it didn’t have the wherewithal to monitor 3G services. At first they asked DoCoMo and Reliance to stop offering video calling services but there is a chance that this may extend to all 3G data services. And there’s also this perception that the big telcos will do anything they can to hold off 3G, at least till they all have 3G. Notice how all 3 started to tie in towards the end of the year.

So in 2009, we looked forward to 2010 as the year where MNP and 3G would Arrive!! Well, they did arrive, but only just. We’re not as far along as we would have liked to be! Not even close. Overall 2010 was a saga-licious year for Telecom – and we’ve chosen to steer clear of mentioning the 2G scam. Here’s hoping 2011 will be far more productive!

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