From Sukh Ram to Mukesh Ambani, here're the men who changed telecom

India's telecom market is now dominated by Reliance Jio, Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel

Govt and administration


Sukh Ram

Sukh Ram was the communication minister in the P V Narasimha Rao's cabinet
He went to jail in a bribery case, but the communication minister in the P V Narasimha Rao Cabinet changed the telecom landscape of the country by bringing in the NTP 1994, which was prepared by his high-profile secretary N Vittal. For the first time, private sector participation was allowed in the sector and with it came the introduction of mobile services. He also allowed FDI of up to 49 per cent in telecom.

Soli Sorabjee

Soli Sorabjee, former attorney general
As attorney general, he played a pivotal role in negotiating the migration settlement package with telcos in 1999 from a licence-fee regime to a revenue-share one. Ram Vilas Paswan was communications minister.

S S Sodhi

S S Sodhi, former TRAI chairman. Illustrations: Ajay Mohanty
As Trai chairman, he pushed through the interconnect regime, which ensured incumbent government operators had to allow their consumers to connect to networks of private operators on a non-discriminatory and timely basis. He fought for the independence of the regulator and was ousted.

Pramod Mahajan  

Pramod Mahajan, former communications minister
As communications minister, he backed limited mobility, represented by a new entrant then known as Reliance Infocomm, and escalated a bitter battle among GSM operators. The matter went to the Supreme Court and, together with his secretary, Shyamal Ghosh, they came under scrutiny for allocating spectrum beyond 6.2 MHz unilaterally.

Arun Shourie

Arun Shourie
He was able to bring GSM operators and WLL (wireless in local loop) players like Reliance together for an out-of-court settlement in which Bharti chief Sunil Mittal played a key role. But he was questioned for giving a sweet deal to Reliance and the Tatas.

Dayanidhi Maran

Dayanidhi Maran
He brought in greater competition by permitting two more mobile operators in each circle and prodded operators to slash tariffs. He also liberalised telecom FDI rules by upping it to 74 per cent, encouraging international players like AT&T, BT, Telstra, and Verizon to come in. But his record came under a cloud with the allegation that he forced C Sivasankaran to sell Aircel to (Maran’s) friend T Anandakrishnan, who controls Maxis in Malaysia, and it came under CBI investigation.

A Raja

A Raja
He allowed six new players to get the mobile licence on the first-come-first-served basis, kicking off a price war in the market and creating financial stress. Raja went to jail for allegedly changing the licensing policy to favour certain companies. But while he organised the 3G and BWA auction and the government got Rs 67,000 crore, the CAG in its report said the government had made a notional loss of Rs 1.76 trillion for giving spectrum cheap. The Supreme Court struck down the 122 2G licences and there was mayhem in the industry.

Business and Corporate


Sunil Bharti Mittal

Sunil Bharti Mittal, Chairman, Bharti Airtel
From selling Beetle phones to PSUs like MTNL, he was determined to participate once telecom opened up to the private sector. And when it did, he took the right bet to put his money in mobile services while many of the big boys went for basic fixed lines. The rest is history. He ruled as the telecom czar for years, till Idea and Vodafone merged and then Jio changed the picture.

Mukesh Ambani

Mukesh Ambani, Chairman & MD, RIL
After failing in his first attempt due to CDMA and focus on data, which was perhaps ahead of its time, his second coming was with a bang. This time he disrupted the market by offering 3 things — a state-of-the-art network that was for 4G only, free calls, and cheap data. Suddenly Indians became the largest data users in the world. He’s taking his dream forward by getting into 5G network solutions, phones, and becoming the king in fixed broadband.

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