Telecommunications services, in true sense, began in India in 1851 when a telegraph service became operational between Kolkata, then the seat of the British colonial government, and Diamond Harbor 21 miles away, a trading post of the British East India Company. The telegraph, and later the telephone were introduced in India in 1882 and were viewed by the British as tools of command and control that were essential to maintain law and order in the country. For example, India's attempt at challenging British rule in 1857, referred to as the "Sepoy Mutiny," was covered up through the use of telegraph lines connecting the British rulers in India and their armies. In 1883, the British combined the telegraph services with postal services to further increase their command and control in India. Runners, stationed at telegraph offices, carried telegrams to remote post offices, thereby linking the British rulers with even the most distant pockets of India. After gaining independence from Britain in" 1947, the national government continued the colonial legacy, organizing post and telegraph services exclusively in the domain of the state. Jawaharlal Nehru's post-independence socialist policies dedicated India to state-run, state-owned monopolies in various sectors, including Indian telecommunication as well. Managed by slow-moving, overstaffed government machinery under the aegis of the Ministry of Posts and Telegraphs, the performance of India's telecommunications sector was slow until the mid-1980s.
The main reasons for this poor performance included an official view that telephones were a "luxury" rather than a "necessity". The main reasons for this poor performance were stated by an official record, saying that people still believed telephones to be a "luxury" rather than a "necessity". Moreover, the dominance of the state-run telecommunications with no competitive pressures for originality in telecommunications products, services, and their pricing; the processes of the government telecommunications operations, pressure of the shareholders for effectiveness; profitability; sales growth; market capitalization and many more accounted for the reason of slow development.However, a bureaucratic, top-down telecommunications organisation without delegation, initiative, or accountability, and an overcrowded structure of tens of thousands of telecommunications employees with inadequate job challenges or training also contributed as reasons for slow development of Indian Telecommunication sectors.
In India, the Ministry of Posts and Telegraphs focused on improving the delivery of telegrams and telexes while other countries were embracing digital telephony and facsimile machines. India missed the opportunity of bypassing old-fashioned technologies. In 1880, two telephone companies namely The Oriental Telephone Company Ltd. and The Anglo-Indian Telephone Company Ltd. approached the Government of India to establish telephone exchanges in India. The permission was refused on the grounds that the founding of telephones was a Government monopoly and that the Government itself would commence the work. By 1881, the Government changed its earlier decision and eventually a licence was granted to the Oriental Telephone Company Limited of England for opening telephone exchanges at Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai (Madras) and Ahmedabad. January 28, 1882, is a Red Letter Day in the history of Indian Telecommunications. On this day Major E. Baring, Member of the Governor General of India's Council confirmed the opening of Telephone Exchange in Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai. The exchange at Kolkata named "Central Exchange" was opened at third floor of the building at 7, Council House Street. The Central Telephone Exchange carried 93 subscribers. Bombay (now Mumbai) also witnessed the opening of Telephone Exchange in 1882.
The statistics in the history of Indian telecommunications show that there has been a mammoth revolution in this sector of India. Between 1988 and 1998, the number of villages with some kind of telephone facility increased from around 27,316 to 300,000 villages. By 2000, around 650,000 public call offices provided reliable telephone service, where people could simply walk in, make a call, and pay the metered charges, had mushroomed all over India, including the remote, rural, hilly, and tribal areas as well.
The emergence of PCOs satisfied the strong Indian socio-cultural need of keeping in touch with family members. Much like train travel in India which is often undertaken to celebrate marriages, visit relatives, or attend funerals, the telephone is also viewed as a way of maintaining close family ties. Thus, looking into these requirements, most advertisements for telephony services feature mothers talking to their sons and daughters, or grandparents talking to grandchildren. Telephone expansion in India thus serves a strong socio-cultural function for its users, in addition to a commercial one.
A stunning 117 billion metered calls were made in India from these PCOs in 1998. Revenues of the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), the state-run telecommunications operator, increased from $790 million in 1988 to $4.3 billion in 1998, simply a five-fold increase in 10 years. Over the next several years, India planned to add four to five million digital telephone lines to increase its telephone density from 2.5 per 100 people in 1999, to 7 per 100 people by 2005, and to 15 by 2010. So, by 2005, the number of telephones in India will rise to 75 million; projections for 2010 are pegged at 150 million. Massive investments running into billions of dollars (installing each telephone line costs about $750) were needed for this expansion, so private sector involvement intensified. Mobile telephony represented one telecommunications sector where private sector involvement is particularly important.
Indian Telecommunications portrays the real sense of transferring the information between two distant points in space. Thus, the history of Indian telecom can be started with the introduction of telegraph and still ongoing with the present status of effective mobile phones available all over the country.
The significant dates in the history of Indian Telecommunications are as follows -