Soft-spoken, yet a taskmaster, K Rajaraman stands out among his predecessors. The telecom secretary of India—since October 2021—is part of over half-a-dozen groups on the social-messaging app WhatsApp, wherein he delegates work to officials, always keeping them on their toes.
His colleagues at the department of telecommunications (DoT) and acquaintances from the industry say file movement among officers has become swifter ever since he and the telecom minister Ashwini Vaishnaw took up the reins.
“He acknowledges and responds to matters even via SMSes or on WhatsApp,” said an Indian telecom-equipment manufacturer.
Though measured in the interactions with the media, Rajaraman doesn’t shy away from giving a quick bite, especially if it’s post 7.30pm. He reaches Sanchar Bhawan, the DoT headquarters, by 9.30am and usually leaves by 9pm. He played a crucial role in getting sufficient sufficient The Ken Satellite operators and broadcasters vs telcos, as India’s 5G spectrum saga hits new snag Read more mid-band spectrum for 5G auctions and the allocation of E band allocation of E band Business Standard DoT panel undecided on spectrum allocation to mobile operators Read more , a set of frequencies used to connect telecom towers to the core of a mobile network.
Before steering the telecom policy, Rajaraman—a 1989 Tamil Nadu-cadre Indian Administrative Service officer—held various positions with the department of economic affairs.
In this interview with The Ken, he talks about what keeps him awake at night. As the telecom secretary, he oversaw the bumper sale of 5G spectrum in 2022. Now, he is overseeing the making of India’s largest internet-connectivity project.
The DoT is formalising a proposal for the BharatNet Project’s third phase. The Ken has learnt that the project—meant for taking the optical-fibre connectivity to about 650,000 villages—is conservatively estimated to have an outlay of over Rs 50,000 crore (~US$6 billion). This may even double, depending on the level of resilience of the network and the government’s appetite for such large public expenditure, according to government officials and industry executives aware of the matter.
The last-mile connectivity is not the sole motive. The central government has realised that a country of India’s size can’t rely only on one medium of communication, i.e. mobile telephony. “India needs a healthy mix of mobile, wired broadband, and satellite connectivity,” said Rajaraman.
This is also important from a strategic perspective. If one medium is disrupted, people should have other choices. The DoT is working with low-earth orbit low-earth orbit Low-earth orbit It is an orbit below 2000Km from earth (LEO) and medium-earth orbit medium-earth orbit A range of orbits between 2000Km and 35,786Km above sea level (MEO) satellite players such as Bharti Airtel-backed OneWeb and Reliance Industries-owned JioPlatforms to take the internet to deep rural and mountainous areas.