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Bridging the Digital Divide in Northeast India

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The Minister for Development of Northeast Region, Tourism, and Culture, G. Kishan Reddy, has inaugurated India’s first 5G training laboratories and 5G healthcare applications in all eight North Eastern States. The labs are expected to not only bridge the digital divide but also equip young individuals with vital skills for the information age, cultivating the expansion of the knowledge-based economy in the northeast.

The Minister underscored the importance of this ambitious step in establishing a dynamic 5G digital ecosystem in the northeast region. It will unlock vast opportunities for growth and play a role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. According to Reddy, as the 5G market continues to expand, the northeastern states will be well-positioned to harness this opportunity and improve the delivery of public services.

The project is centrally funded by the North East Council (NEC) and is being executed by the Assam Electronic Development Corporation (AMTRON), a public sector undertaking of the Assam state government.

Underlining the importance of 5G technology in healthcare, an official stressed its potential to offer high-quality healthcare access even in remote areas, ultimately reducing medical expenses for the general population. 5G could serve as a pivotal tool in realising the Prime Minister’s vision of ‘Antyodaya.’

Minister Reddy claimed that the government is committed to transforming the northeast into India’s new growth engine, with over IN 5 trillion (US $60 billion) invested in connectivity and infrastructure development in the region over the past nine and a half years.

India is currently experiencing a rapid digital transformation that is fundamentally reshaping the economy and society. The advent of fast and dependable mobile communication technologies is playing a pivotal role in assisting the government to achieve tasks set in the Digital India programme. This technological advancement empowers its citizens by facilitating essential services such as the Unified Payment Interface (UPI) and several other innovative government-to-business (G2B) and government-to-citizen (G2C) applications.

The 5G services were launched in India in October last year and telecom service providers have been actively rolling out 5G networks throughout the entire country. The government has undertaken several initiatives to develop 5G infrastructure and promote research and development.

Recently, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) issued a consultation paper titled “Digital Transformation through 5G Ecosystem”. The aim of the paper is to identify policy challenges and propose an appropriate policy framework to accelerate the adoption and efficient use of new technologies. Stakeholders are encouraged to submit their written comments for consultation by 30 October. Additionally, any counter-comments should be submitted by 13 November.

Cross-sector collaborative efforts have also been initiated to expedite the implementation of 5G technology. Apart from the establishment of 5G infrastructure, the development, and implementation of new use cases for consumers and businesses is crucial for the widespread acceptance and complete realisation of 5G’s potential. 5G will be particularly beneficial when integrated with artificial intelligence (AI), extended reality (XR), and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Achieving this will require effective cooperation within the ecosystem. Telecom service providers (TSPs), original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), infrastructure providers, and the government must work closely together to boost consumer adoption, prepare the market, and ultimately unlock the large-scale advantages that 5G has to offer.

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