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Sunday, July 10, 2005

Indian Telephone Connectivity : Approach Towards 350 Million Subscribers

(Via Outlook)A decade back, India had less than ten million telephones. Meager growth rates, poor teledensities and increasing population made the challenge of providing ore connections formidable. With a vision to achieve 100 million telephones in a decade, Dr.Ashok Jhunjunwalla’s(professor of electrical engineering at IIT Madras and heads the TeNeT group) group assessed the paying capacity of Indians and concluded that 100 million subscribers in India cannot provide an average revenue per user (ARPU) exceeding Rs 400 per month. To make this operationally viable for the operators the group worked on new technology breakthroughs in the form of developing an affordable Wireless in Local Loop (wiLL) in place of expensive copper loops. The wireless technologies became the main thrust for growth over the last decade. In a similar nature of assessment, it is found that for India to emerge as a technological power we must provide 50 million broadband connections in the next five years.The growth so far has largely been confined to urban areas, as most operators think rural connectivity is not economically viable. The answer is a combination of policy initiatives and innovation on technological and business models. It is imperative that rural connectivity be opened to smaller operators who would strive to make it viable. Termed rural service providers, they could be given a licence to operate telephony and internet only in rural areas and a right to interconnect their network to the national network at the district headquarters. They would use a variety of emerging technologies and innovate on their business model to deliver service. Wireless technologies would still be the key and breakthrough technologies like Broadband corDECT and wiMAX would make a difference. A broadband internet kiosk in each village (similar to a PCO in each urban street) could be set up by an entrepreneur who could drive services in the village.

The next 300 to 350 million telephone subscribers could be served only at lower ARPU’s -a low cost GSM micro-base station is installed at the internet kiosk in each village, with the internet connection serving as a backhaul to the town could become a key enabler providing both telephone & broadband connectivity. Connectivity technologies & Innovation can address the connectivity issues.Initiatives for low cost mobiles,innovations like this shall play important role in advancing the progress. The affordability of 50 million people to buy personal computers in the near future at the prevailing rates may be an Issue. Only new technologies like Network PC can make this happen. Rajesh Jain’s Novatium where Ashok serves on the board is said to be ready to launch low cost- thin client PC’s(price range around 100$ or less).Ashok concludes that it is safe to dream that every Indian would have a phone and net connection by 2020.
A combination of vision, guts, innovation, entrepreneurism, favourable policy regulations all are coming together to make this happen - the mission is nothing short of truw revolution - the multiplier effect this can bring would be mind boggling. Indeed a highly laudable goal and here are the best wishes for the success of the mission

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