Creating independent telecom network companies or 'netcos' would be key to connecting the unconnected, GSMA Chairman Sunil Mittal said on Monday, but admitted to "levels of resistance" among those who see owning networks as their competitive edge.
He also cautioned against wasting billions of dollars on building parallel, subscale networks and said India's experiment with having a dozen telecom operators had gone "completely wrong" and the market is consolidating to four players.
"...if you can bring an independent 'netco', which is again like a tower or a submarine cable consortium where no one person has influence, I think you will be able to cover the last billion, which is struggling to be covered," Mittal said addressing the keynote at Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2018.
He was responding to a question on whether or not his concept of 'netcos' which could be run by a third parties, independent of the telecom companies, was gaining any ground.
Mittal said that while "progress" had been made in terms of the industry coming together for submarine cable and tower infrastructure consortiums, telecom networks are still perceived as a competitive advantage.
"Yesterday, a very significant player in the industry... a CEO of a large company... said I still want my network advantage and if I have a common network, where is my advantage? I still feel that there are levels of resistance...," he said.
Mittal, who also heads India's largest telecom company Bharti Airtel, noted however that the concept is now being "discussed" and he will continue to push the agenda in his role as GSMA (GSM Association) Chairman.
"People have to come together and form common networks and out of that you bring bells and whistles to serve customers. I would still like to push that as one of the agendas as the chairman... I mentioned it last year. I won't say we have made great progress but the topic is being discussed now," he added.
Mittal also emphasised the importance of consolidation saying billions of dollars could not be "wasted" on building parallel and subscale networks.
"In India, where we have experimented with a dozen operators... I think we had gone, completely gone wrong... has now finally come down to four operators or will do so in the next few months," he said.
Mittal added: "Consolidation in this industry is important. You cannot waste billions of dollars...we are spending far too much money building parallel, subscale networks".
The combination of 5G and new-age technologies like Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things (IoT) will pave the way for applications that are currently only in the realm of science fiction, he noted.
Mittal further said the advent of 5G had marked a fundamental shift and that coming generations will be "amazed" and how societies lived or even thrived before technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR), came up.
"Coming in of 5G makes that generational, transformational and fundamental shift in how societies have lived prior and post 5G. Future generations, to my mind, when they look back, will be amazed at how societies lived much less thrived with not having networks and associated technologies like AI, AR, VR and Internet of Things (IoT)," said Mittal.
Highlighting the use of big data in healthcare reforms, climate change, environment and other areas, he said Big Data and technology interventions are being harnessed to solve "critical world problems".
"I am optimistic, the human mind is such that they will keep finding solutions to problems that are thrown at us," he said.