Hundred million broadband subscribers through television possible by 2012

MUMBAI:  Broadband penetration could be raised from the present seven million to 100 million subscribers by 2012 if Television could be used as an end user device, according to UT Starcom India managing director South Asia Vijay Yadav.

 

This way it could reach out to 700 million people including largely people in the rural areas, said Yadav at the 6th Broadband Tech India 2009.

 

Developments like these could bring phenomenal results, said Department of Telecom, Ministry of Communications & IT, Govt of India secretary P.J. Thomas, inaugurating the 6th Broadband Tech India 2009. He called for strategies to make such growth possible. The telecom revolution had already pushed the wireline use to the backburner connecting hundreds of millions through wireless technology. According to BSNL director Consumer Mobility R. K. Aggarwal the key issues in broadband penetration included content for all age groups and bandwidth speeds of 2 to 4 Mbps.

 

Urging use of the 60 to 70 million route km of copper cables already available for the big push in broadband connectivity, Yadav explained how the technology constraint of four km limit to fiber to home could be overcome. There were also different technologies like fiber to home, combination of fiber and wireless and last quarter mile to the curb. He urged all these technologies should be used in the push to the 100 million subscribers by 2012 target.

 

The audio-visual being a natural mode of communication, broadband through TV would be a more acceptable medium for rural communication than through PC, the UT Starcom MD pointed out. The experience so far in the experiment connecting a village near Jaipur with such broadband on television had been very encouraging, he said. He expected in the next ten years ninety per cent of the communication would be video and the proportion of voice only was getting reduced. For funding such a rapid deployment of broadband, Yadav suggested funding from USO (universal service obligation fund), the allotments for such employment and development programmes like NREG NHAI, Railways should be used as this was a huge employment generating technology.

 

USO Fund administrator, Ministry of Commerce & IT Ajay Bhattacharya revealed that after the proposed spectrum auctions USO would be supporting the extension of wireless broadband to rural areas. He foresaw a million broadband users in rural areas in the next two years.The fund was already supporting wireless connectivity in rural areas being set up by BSNL.

 

Both Bhattacharya and telecom experts and executives who addressed the conference listed affordability, content and network costs as the three specific issues to be attended to through a combined effort of the industry, government and content providers. "The issue is no longer one of relevance of broadband but how to make it part of an achievable programme" said Reliance Communications vice president broadband Jalaj Choudhri. The trend in which the major part of the revenue from broadband went to the application content providers was constraining growth as network providers also needed to be compensated properly if the business plan for broadband was to prosper, he said. "A more wholesome business plan has to be evolved"  Choudhri pointed out discussing the various alternatives towards this objective.

 

If broadband usage provides livelihood enhancing capacity for rural audiences, they would be able to pay for the service, said BDA Connect managing director Kunal Bajaj. At the same time it was necessary to find the network architecture that reduced both the capex and opex for rural connectivity. While wireless networks were far less expensive the opex for rural connectivity was 40 per cent higher than that for urban areas. Wireless broadband on 700 MHz spectrum was far cheaper than that on 2.3 to 2.5 GHz spectrum. More services needed to be provided to increase revenue from broadband provision.

 

Questioning the practicality of targeting for 100 million broadband connections by 2012, Bharti Airtel’s group CTO  telemedia services Shankar Halder, felt a more achievable target was 25 to 30 million by then. For service providers international bandwidth costs were going up significantly. For making broadband affordable, the costs have to be brought down. He suggested that content must be built nearer home. Mere 2Mbps bandwidth to the user did not mean much, the experience for him must be made richer. At present there was no coordination between various agencies involved in broadband. Industry and government had to work together to remove the hurdles to making broadband a widely affordable and enriching experience.

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