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The challenge for any service provider is to optimize its network and enhance user experience.
For instance, one of the major issues facing broadband networks is the congestion created by
peer-to-peer traffic on those networks. Peer-to-peer traffic on a broadband network can be
anywhere from 50 to 85 percent. The networks are not designed for that kind of traffic on which
the service providers have no control. This creates an entirely new paradigm for how traffic is
generated and controlled on the network.
The question of penetration determinants needs to be addressed by the regulator. To make any
country broadband rich, the main determinants should drive down costs, encouraging initial
telecom infrastructure Capex, bring together people/markets/goods using broadband for
organized e-trade, and most importantly for the selection of prime movers/applications.
Even if service providers have enough bandwidth, they find it difficult to ensure quality of
service. To take broadband to the lower levels and make it popular among the masses; the user
experience of broadband usage needs to be enhanced.
Important Factors for Broadband Growth
Growth of broadband is mainly driven by three factors, namely, Infrastructure, Access devices
Infrastructure: Currently, DSL is the major technology used in the country for broadband
access. Cable, VSAT, and DTH are alternatives to DSL and Fiber Optic. Fiber has been
recognized as a preferred medium to deliver high-quality voice, data, and video in the
converged environment. Already 0.5 million Km of optic fiber has been laid by
BSNL/MTNL and another 0.3 million Km by their private counterparts. Most of this
infrastructure is mainly in urban and semi-urban India and hardly exists in rural area.
Access Devices: The low penetration of PCs in India is one of the major constraints for
the Broadband penetration. The current PC penetration in India was estimated to be
around 2 percent in 2006. While the PC penetration in urban area is increasing
considerably with every passing year, the penetration in rural areas has been very low.
The cost of PCs and language of operating system play a major role in spread of the
Internet to rural areas.
Content: Since 2004, the focus has shifted from content for the general Internet to
content for broadband services. Focus over localized content has now given way to data
and multimedia-rich content for high-speed connections. Almost all broadband service
providers have plans for content delivery, not necessarily content development. Content
developers and service providers have come together to provide Live TV, webcasts,
telecommuting, streaming audio/video applications (VoIP, Video Conferencing), gaming,
software on demand, remote education, telemedicine, entertainment to name a few. This
content has become a major driver, as these applications pull new customers and lead
the current ones to migrate from narrowband to broadband.
Broadband allows huge volumes of data over the wire and thus gives rise to new communication
and application means. These applications have been the main drivers for Internet users (both
enterprises and consumers) to go for the broadband services. Some of the main applications are
VoIP: Voice over IP has reduced the voice communication cost drastically (especially for
international calls) making the PC to PC call almost free. VoIP not only allows PC to PC
calls but also allows PC to landline/mobile phones at a much lower cost than a
landline/mobile to landline/mobile phone.
Video and Music: Video and digital music downloads are one of the killer applications
driving the growth of broadband across the globe. Additionally, video conferencing
reduces the cost required to travel to different locations to meet people for business
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reduces the cost required to travel to different locations to meet people for business.
Telecommuting: In the past, a major challenge facing the companies was to provide
required connectivity to traveling employees, as they were unable to provide them an
office to work for. With wireless broadband, it has now become possible for the travelers
to remain connected with their offices continuously.
Remote Education: India, which has a huge geographical spread, needs an alternative
way to impart education to its masses especially in rural areas. Broadband has been able
to help students to take up courses not offered in their region.
Telemedicine: This could be one of the applications that could drive the broadband in the
future. The availability of video and high speed data transfer allows the patient to consult
a specialist doctor in a far away place.
In 2006, around 83 percent broadband subscribers were on DSL technology; whereas the
remaining 17 percent were accessing broadband using Cable modem, Ethernet LAN, Fiber and
Radio. Wired technology such as DSL can reach only up to 5 kilometers from the central office
and since India does not have a comprehensive wired infrastructure in place, it makes wired
broadband an expensive and unrealistic option for rural areas.
For broadband to have a reach all across the country (both in urban as well as rural areas),
service providers will have to look into various emerging technologies, mainly wireless. All the
available broadband technologies should be promoted by the Government. Some of the
emerging technologies that are expected to make a huge impact in future have been discussed
Wi-Fi: Wi-Fi is the Wireless LAN based on the 802.11 standards. This technology has
gained tremendous acceptance for providing wireless broadband connectivity in local
areas of approximately 100 feet and is mainly used to create hot-spots in commercial
complexes, hotels, airports, etc.
Wi-Fi has been quite successful in developed countries but its adoption is still not
significant in developing countries and the same is true for India as well. The biggest
problem with Wi-Fi is in its ability to scale to become a wide area network.
WiMax: Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave access (WiMax) is a wireless system
based on the IEEE 802.16 standards. WiMax provides wireless access over long distances
(Metropolitan areas network) delivering point to point links to full mobile cellular type
access. This technology is especially important for India, as the wireless infrastructure is
not as widespread as in developed countries especially in rural areas. The technology is
also expected to take care of last mile issues in future. Bharti, BSNL, VSNL, Reliance and
Sify have acquired the required WiMax licenses and are currently in various stages of
trials/deployments. WiMax is seen as a technology that can play a major role in providing
affordable broadband access in rural India.
One of the biggest challenges with WiMax is the access device. Currently, the minimum
cost of PC and a modem, necessary for WiMax broadband access, is in the range of INR
17,000. Thought this cost is considerably low, as compared to the minimum PC price 2/3
years earlier it still remains unaffordable for a large urban population and for most of the
rural India. WiMax technology is relatively new and has not yet been really successfully
deployed any where worldwide.
3G (EVDO/WCDMA/HSPA): 3rd Generation is the latest mobile technology, which
provides considerable higher download speed (minimum transmission rate of 144 kbps in
mobile environment and up to 2 Mbps in a fixed environment) than the existing 2G/2.5G
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mobile environment and up to 2 Mbps in a fixed environment) than the existing 2G/2.5G
(GSM/CDMA 2000) technologies. This technology has been widely applied across the
globe (launched in more than 100 countries) and has been quite successful. Some of the
killer applications such music downloads have been driving the adoption of 3G services in
developed countries like Japan. In India, the allocation of a spectrum license for this
technology is in process and is expected to be completed in the next few months.
3G technology could be used to make broadband available to masses in India, as each
subscriber would automatically be a broadband enabled subscriber. More importantly, 3G
infrastructure could be easily and quickly deployed due its 2G underlay. Another
important aspect is the 3G access device, which could be affordable not only to the rich
class but also the masses, as is the case of current cellular devices.
Advanced wireless technologies, such as WiMax and 3G, are expected to drive broadband
growth in the country. These technologies have been successful in different parts of the world
and India could also leverage them to achieve the next level of the telecom revolution. In the
short term, the Government should release the required spectrum to roll out WiMax and 3G
services, as these would help in reducing the digital divide and in achieving economic growth
throughout the country.
The majority of semi-urban and rural areas do not have appropriate wire line network for data
connectivity. Setting up a wired communication network across the country would not be
feasible, as it would require huge Capex and a considerable amount of time. The most feasible
way to provide broadband access would be through wireless technologies. Affordable
connectivity to empower rural consumers is critical for the country’s economic growth.
The real challenge in rural broadband lies in increasing the PC penetration. The Government
should promote vendors to look at sub INR 10,000 PCs in a big way. This along with an
attractive financial package and basic IT education (the computer and its application familiarity)
would make PC affordable for rural India. Another challenge for rural broadband would be
substantial and relevant content for the diversified Indian population, without which the
possibility of success for broadband in rural areas is very low. The Government should play a
leading role in developing and deploying applications (e-governance, e-education, agricultural
services, healthcare services, etc) that could be used by the masses, especially, in rural areas.
Apart from this, service providers should also be encouraged develop rich local content the
same way they are encouraged for rural telecom expansion (fixed line, mobile and broadband)
through the USO fund.
Various government projects and corporate initiatives is drive the requirement of broadband in
rural India. Some of such projects/initiatives are:
ITC E-choupal to connect 10 Million farmers in 100,000 villages
HUL Project i-Shakti (7,500 villages)
Project Saksham :Microsoft India project to set-up kiosks in around 200,000 villages
Golden quadrilateral project to create need for access kiosks
Around 200 e-government projects in various states
VICTERS (Virtual classroom on EDUSAT for rural schools)
Microfinance invigorates rural credit
HughesNet Fusion centers: Hughes is setting up 1,000 rural ICT kiosks
Kisan Soochna Kendras: Jai Kisan (an NGO set up to introduce rural IT technology in
Uttaranchal) to put up over 3,000 kiosks
State Bank of India planning to set up 5,000 to 6,000 kiosks; has started a new rural
initiative to encourage banking habits among the rural masses
Such projects by the Government as well as corporate would lead to higher adoption of
broadband in rural India and generate huge employment opportunities in terms of running and
maintaining these kiosks (on an average each kiosk provides employment to 3 persons), new
opportunities through e-commerce, Rural BPO, etc. There are around 600,000 villages with an
average of 250 to 300 households per village. A kiosk in each such village would lead to direct
employment of around 1.8 million as kiosk operators and greater indirect employment by
presenting new business opportunities.
WiMax is being promoted by the Government (DoT) for affordable rural broadband connectivity,
as this technology can be deployed in a short time and the Capex requirement is much less as
compared to the wired network.
The Way Ahead
One way to increase the penetration rate is to lay emphasis on infrastructure sharing between
providers so that the cost of service comes down and services are offered at an affordable price
to the consumers. Consequently, the issues of poor local-content availability in India should get
resolved, as bigger broadband subscription numbers are likely to encourage more content
Broadband in India Page 5 of 5
The Government should make sure that the required spectrum, which is currently held by
Department of Space and Department of Defense, is released and ensure that sufficient
spectrum is available for the quick roll out of services. It must also encourage more competition
in the market to create a situation where new participants can enter the market. Furthermore,
unless local loop unbundling takes place, it will be difficult to achieve growth like the mobile
There have been differences of opinion between the DoT and the TRAI. They must abandon their
confrontationist attitude, as it was only when the DoT stepped back that the telecom sector
flourished. The recommendations of the TRAI should be considered seriously.
It has to be realized that profitability of service providers and customer welfare cannot go hand
in hand. However, with a customer-centric approach, everything else is expected to fall into
Indian customers are price and quality sensitive; the broadband boom in India would only
happen with the timely and inexpensive deployment of broadband access technology. This
would make the access to broadband much more feasible for the large masses similar to the
mobile subscriber boom the county is currently experiencing. Wide coverage, India specific
Applications, cheaper access devices and improved speed are the need of the hour to make
broadband a huge success and to ensure that India is at par) India at par with other advanced
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