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Monday, 11 August 2014 11:51

Government’s focus shift to Cable Broadband

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Knowing the importance of Broadband service in the growth of GDP and enhancement in quality of life through societal applications likes tele-education, tele-medicine, e-governance, entertainment as well as employment generation by way of high speed access to information and web-based communication, Government had brought a policy to accelerate the growth of Broadband services in the year 2004. With this policy it was suggested to the government to use the country’s cable TV infrastructure as a “franchisee network” of internet service providers for providing broadband services. 

To make broadband accessible to the masses particularly in Rural areas was part of BJP’s manifesto for the Lok Sabha elections. However, the government has now got on war footing to do the needful and expedite National Optical Fiber Network project as well as the BBNL rural broadband project.

The government is now planning to use cable television service providers as franchisee networks to increase broadband penetration, especially in semi-urban and rural areas. Recently in this regard a discussion held in Department of Telecommunications, to create a policy framework for broadband services providers, permitting them to get into franchisee agreements with cable TV service providers in rural areas. 

The reason behind the move is cable TV’s greater penetration. According to TRAI data, published on 7th July 2014 at present there are 61.74 million broadband users in India. Of these, only 14.91 million are on wire-line services and the remaining 46.42 million are on wireless cellular networks at the end of April 2014. On the other hand, about 100 million Indian households are connected through the cable television network while there are about 62.97 million DTH subscribers at the end of March 2014. 

According to DoT estimation, India would have 175 million broadband users by 2017, and the number will increase to 600 million by 2019 who would get minimum download speed of 2 megabytes per second (mbps), instead of average 256 kilobytes per second now.  Besides creating infrastructure for affordable and reliable broadband, the DoT has also noted that higher speed broadband services, up to 100 megabytes per second, should be made available. As per the Government target, high speed broadband should be made available to all the 6.5 lakh villages across India by 2020. 

This, in fact, will be among the highlights of the new BJP-led government's upcoming broadband policy that likens broadband connectivity to a fundamental right like education and health. 

The new broadband policy will also explore ways to attract large investments from potential developers of fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) networks.

The government's renewed focus on broadband is partly influenced by a recent International Telecom Union report that concluded that "every 10 per cent rise in broadband penetration will trigger 0.31 per cent GDP growth and a 0.28 per cent jump in jobs creation".

Broadband boost economic growth

Broadband technology is a contributor to economic growth at several levels. First, the deployment of broadband technology across business enterprises improves productivity by facilitating the adoption of more efficient business processes (e.g., marketing, inventory optimization, and streamlining of supply chains). Second, extensive deployment of broadband accelerates innovation by introducing new consumer applications and services (e.g., new forms of commerce and financial intermediation). Third, broadband leads to a more efficient functional deployment of enterprises by maximizing their reach to labour pools, access to raw materials, and consumers, (e.g., outsourcing of services, virtual call centres.)

However these plans have been done only on paper not on ground and this is not the first time when government is planning to do this. It is good that the new government wants to look at the proposal again.

Technologies in Cable TV Broadband

MSOs and LCOs are increasingly deploying FTTB or FTTC and moving closer to FTTH, which is the ultimate technology for broadband. Cable TV Fiber is reaching very close to the cluster of customer houses, just 300 to 500 mtrs short. These networks are ideal for triple play services.

The so-called “Triple Play” service means the convergence of three distinct network services coming together as one integrated service platform; an integrated Information & Communication network of telecom, TV broadcast and internet networks. The main purpose of Triple Play is to share network resources and to avoid extra unnecessary construction. Forming a high speed multimedia platform, that is flexible, low cost and easy to maintain.

As the traditional unicast structure which exists in India for many years do not meet the demand as a basic multimedia platform; government must facilitate building of bi-directional networks. The CATV bi-directional network structure also has 3 layers including core, aggregation and access compared with other broadband service networks, the only difference is the access method. Same structure is used for data services by any type of network including household access, aggregation of data stream and trunk transmission.

In most of the developing countries like China, Brazil, Egypt, Philippines etc. government policies have been framed to remove all obstacles for CATV operator to enter into the IP service market where only Telecom operators were operating. This helped the cable operators to invest in broadband infrastructure so that they can compete with the telecom operators providing IP&TV and VOD services to subscribers as soon as possible. We also need policies to assist the cable TV industry to upgrade networks for broadband.

There are 3 popular solutions available for converting cable TV network into a broadband network:

1. CMTS+CM is for DOCSIS and widely exist in the CATV networks in developed countries as it was born early with expensive system. DOCSIS system is becoming outdated as it is not very bandwidth efficient. The old system (Docsis 2.0) can provide only 30 Mbps of capacity where as the new, DOCSIS 3.0 can provide 100 mbps per channel, but the system is costly for India. Some large MSOs are using the old system but only for enterprise use and not in residential use.

2.EPON+EoC is ideal for HFC networks where Fiber and co-axial cables are used. It is very cost effective and existed networks can adopt it without much changes.

3.Ethernet switch This is the popular access method for UTP cable.  Many cable operators use CAT-5 cables in a parallel network to supply broadband to their consumers taking band width from ISPs.

IPTV or IP streaming will become more popular with Cable TV operators in the future as all cable TV digital headends provide IP output. It is also easy to be integrated with existing telecom networks. Feeding Long distance Hubs from the Headend shall be on IP where cheaper edge QAM modulators will turn it into a one way RF cable TV signal in the same conventional way as the LCOs are familiar with today.

AS soon as the LCOs realize that the money is in two way interactive broadband services they will prefer an ETTH or FTTH over DOCSIS in any case.

It may be recollected that Cable Operators Federation of India (COFI) had been pursuing use of cable networks for broadband for many years demanding government support to upgrade the networks. Only last year the Federation President Mrs. Roop Sharma had met the communication and IT minister Sh Kapil Sibal to explain her point of view. She had even approached TRAI to lay more emphasis on improving the Cable TV infrastructure for broadband rather than focus of transmitting maximum TV channels in the DAS Regulations. However, sadly neither TRAI nor DoT took any concrete action to encourage broadband on cable TV Networks. Some of the actions which COFI had suggested are listed below:- 

  • Government should Recognise/ Indentfy already laid Infrastructure and support these LCOs to give Broadband to Panchayats & Municipalities integrating these networks with the network of the telecom companies/ ISPs.

  • Encourage LCO’s entrepreneurship skills, educating them on new business based on broadband services.

  • Make it mandatory for all registered MSOs to build way networks.

  • Provide technical knowledge services. BSNL officials spread all across country could guide and educate cable operators.

  • Financial support through banks/ institutes and USO Fund.

  • Tax rebate on Digital equipment on Import (Telcos get the same equipment duty free).

  • Promote Indigenous manufacturing.

  • Make it mandatory for all STBs to have to broadband ready with Ethernet port

  • Right of way (Intercity or inter-state).

  • This will generate Employment. Other government schemes like the NREGA can be associated with this too in building the infrastructure like burying fiberoptic cables.

  • Technical education in satellite and cable distribution should be included as a special subject in Technical institutes.

  • One window clearances for laying OFC networks, using existing Railways, NHAI, GAIL, Municipal Corporations, PWD networks etc.

  • To provide affordable Broadband for consumer provide bandwidth at a subsidized cost to operators serving the rural /underdeveloped areas.

  • Provide incentive schemes for LCO to give good/ efficient services to the consumers. For example all broadband enabled cable networks could be exempted of Service Tax.

National Optical Fibre Network

Recently government has completed a major part of the survey for the rolling out of its ambitious National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) project, which aims to provide internet access to 2.50 lakh gram panchayats in India. 

According to official data, Bharat Broadband Network Ltd (BBNL), a special purpose vehicle (SPV) created for the project, has completed the survey in over 2.30 lakh gram panchayats and has issued technical sanction to 1.81 lakh. 

BBNL had entrusted the survey work to three public sector undertakings (PSUs)-BSNL, Railtel and Power Grid Corporation of India (PGCIL). 

Before rolling out the project at national level, three pilot projects were conducted in Ajmer (Rajasthan), North Tripura and Vishakhapatnam (Andhra Pradesh). 

Procurement orders for optical fibre cable and electronic transmission equipment have been finalised and the three PSUs have awarded work in 210 blocks for trenching and laying of OFC.

NOFN aims to link 2.50 lakh Gram Panchayats (GP) through an optical fibre cable (OFC) network by March 2017.

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