The Evolution of Telecommunication in India

When Telecommunication Started in India

Telecommunication is the transfer of information over long distances using wires, waves and satellites. It includes internet service providers, mobile phone networks and cable companies.

India is one of the world’s largest telecommunications markets and has among the lowest call tariffs thanks to hyper-competition between private telecom giants. The mainstream ascribes this to the triumph of free market forces and private capital.


Telecommunication is the ability to transmit information over long distances. This information can be in the form of voice, data or video. The information can be transmitted from one end to the other through a number of ways, including microwave communication arrangements, optical fibers and satellite earth stations.

Telephone expansion in India satisfies a strong socio-cultural need to keep in touch with family members. It also serves a commercial function.


Runners, stationed in remote post offices, carried telegrams between distant locations. India’s socialist post-independence policies dedicated post and telecommunication services to state-run, government monopolies.

With the onset of neoliberalism, telecom and other important sectors were opened to private capital. The mainstream motivation was to bring in the discipline of market forces entailing efficiency and dynamism. The reality was a different story.


After independence, Jawaharlal Nehru’s socialist policies gave India exclusive state-owned monopolies in most sectors of the economy, including telecommunication. He created the Department of Telecommunications and two wholly owned companies: Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL) for service in metropolitan areas and Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited for international telecommunications.

Cellphones were not yet available in the country, but pagers allowed people to communicate with each other. They sent a numeric code that a person had to dial to be connected.


Telecommunication in India started with telegraph services and later with telephone services. After independence, the industry became a state monopoly and came under the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. In 1985, it was separated into a separate Department of Telecommunications.

In the 1990s, India’s telecommunications sector grew rapidly and the demand for broadcasting autonomy increased. This led to the creation of TRAI in 1997.


At the time of independence, India had around 80,000 telephone connections. Post-independence, the number grew leisurely.

During the colonial period, most cities and towns were connected by telephones. To call a distant city, one had to book a trunk call with an operator at the exchange.

This was a very cumbersome process. But the telephone network soon grew, especially after economic reforms took hold in 1991.


In the beginning, only a few cities and towns had telephones. But telecommunication revolution in India has accelerated and now effective mobile phones are available in all the cities, towns and villages of India.

In 1975, Department of Telecommunications was separated from Indian Post & Telegraph. A decade later BSNL was chipped out of DoT to run telecom services in India.


Today, the Department of Telecommunications is responsible for telecommunication connections across India. It is a public sector enterprise that was carved out of the Post and Telegraph Department.

The 1980s saw the opening up of basic telephone services to private capital. This was part of the neoliberal philosophy of leaving the commanding heights to private capital, in the name of efficiency and dynamism.


Telecommunications in India serve a strong socio-cultural purpose as a means of keeping in touch with family members. This is reflected in the advertising campaigns that feature mothers talking to their children and grandparents talking to grandchildren.

The 1990s saw the Government allow private investment in telecom. TRAI was established, which reduced the Government’s interference in deciding tariffs. Mobile telephone calls in India are divided into multiple zones called circles.


With the economic reforms of the 1990s, the telecommunication industry was opened up to private capital. The mainstream motivation for this was to unleash market forces that supposedly entail efficiency and dynamism.

Private companies are now the dominant players in India’s telecommunications sector. They have driven the growth of teledensity by making local calls inexpensive and accessible. They have also helped satisfy the strong Indian socio-cultural need to keep in contact with family members.


In 1995 the world saw the first mobile phone call in India. The Department of Telecommunication (DoT) was then responsible for all telecommunications in the country after its separation from Indian Post and Telegraphs.

During this time, the government opened up the telecom sector for private investment. This reduced the interference of the government in deciding tariffs and policies. Globally acclaimed telecommunication companies like Vodafone, SingTel, Telenor and others entered the market.

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