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HomeArticlesBroadbandDelivering Broadband Quickly: What do we need to do?
Friday, 12 December 2014 07:05

Delivering Broadband Quickly: What do we need to do?

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TRAI has issued a consultation Paper on Broadband on 24 September to find out ways and means to deliver broadband quickly. It has also plans to change the policies to facilitate cable operators in providing broadband on their networks.

 

Introduction

Internet which began as a means of transmission of electronic information from a room sized computer to another room sized computer has transformed into an omnipresent global system of interconnected computer networks that link several billion devices worldwide. Every minute, hundreds of millions of people are creating and consuming an enormous amount of digital content. As digital connectivity reaches the far corners of the globe, netizens are using it to improve a wide range of inefficient markets, systems and behaviours. Broadband plays a critical role in an economy and contributes significantly to the development and social progress of a country. It not only increases competitiveness and productivity but also helps the economy to eliminate the social divide and achieve inclusive growth

 

Target as envisaged in NTP-2012:

A high-speed Internet access is generally called “Broadband”. The DoT has revised the definition of Broadband through its notification dated 18th July 2013. The revised definition of Broadband is as follows:

“Broadband is a data connection that is able to support interactive services including Internet access and has the capability of the minimum download speed of 512 kbps to an individual subscriber from the point of presence (POP) of the service provider intending to provide Broadband service.”

NTP-2012 has the vision Broadband on Demand and envisages leveraging telecom infrastructure to enable all citizens and businesses, both in rural and urban areas, to participate in the Internet and web economy thereby ensuring equitable and inclusive development across the nation. It provides the enabling framework for enhancing India’s competitiveness in all spheres of the economy. Target and strategies as envisaged in NTP-2012 are as follows:


Target :

Provide affordable and reliable broadband-on-demand by the year 2015 and to achieve 175 million broadband connections by the year 2017 and 600 million by the year 2020 at minimum 2 Mbps download speed and making available higher speeds of at least 100 Mbps on demand.

Provide high speed and high quality broadband access to all village panchayats through a combination of technologies by the year 2014 and progressively to all villages and habitations by 2020.”

Further, Point 1.5 of part IV strategies contained in the National Telecom Policy-2012 states that:

To revise the existing broadband download speed of 256 Kbps to 512 Kbps and subsequently to 2 Mbps by 2015 and higher speeds of at least 100 Mbps thereafter.”

Present Status of Broadband in India

The number of Narrowband and Broadband connections as on 31 March 2014 are given below in Table 1.1.

Against a target of achieving 175 million broadband connections by 2017, only 60.87 million have been achieved. The country is nowhere near meeting the target for a service which is considered almost a basic necessity in many developed countries. Broadband is helping to deliver a wide range of services, from services directly related to the Millennium Development Goals set by the United Nations, to services in support of broader citizen participation or services leveraged across different sectors to bring more people into the formal economy. Therefore there is an urgent need to review the present policies and its implementation initiated to build infrastructure required for penetration of broadband in the country.


Market share of various operators

Internet Service Providers (ISPs), Unified Access Service Licensees (UASLs) and Cellular Mobile Service Providers (CMSPs) are permitted to provide broadband access under the existing licensing framework. 60.87 million subscribers for March 2014 have been reported by 121 operators. However, the top ten service providers account for about 97% of subscriber base and the top 5 service providers alone hold 83% market share. State owned companies viz. BSNL and MTNL together have about 74.9% market share for wireline broadband and 30.5% for overall broadband subscriptions. This suggests that despite having a license for providing broadband services, the majority of the service providers are either unwilling or unable to penetrate into the market and the market is still dominated by a few players only.


State-wise Broadband Connections:

State wise distribution of broadband subscribers may be seen in Figure 1.1. From the figure it can be seen that top five States have a total of 54.4% of overall connections. Metro and category A circles account for 61% of overall connections. Broadband outreach is very uneven. Many States have a little to no broadband connectivity.

 

Broadband Tariff Trends

lthough broadband penetration is low in India, the entry level tariff for broadband services has come down drastically from Rs.1500 per month in 2004 to around Rs.500 a month in 2014. Most service providers charge a monthly rental between Rs.200 to Rs.1600 for a broadband connection and providing various packages for data transfer. Most service providers provide unlimited download packages. Unlimited broadband plans are on offer for Rs.549 per month.

Initiatives taken by TRAI so far:

The Authority has taken a number of initiatives in the past to promote the growth of broadband. Some of the recommendations1 in chronological order in this regard are:-

  • Accelerating growth of Internet and broadband penetration on 29 April 2004.

  • Review of broadband policy on 03 November 2005.

  • Improvement of NIXI on 20 April 2007.

  • Review of Internet services on 10 May 2007.

  • Growth of broadband on 02 January 2008.

  • Improving effectiveness of NIXI on 22 April 2009.

  • National Broadband Plan on 08 December 2010.

  • Reference on National Broadband Plan on 04 May 2011.

  • Application services on 14 May 2012.


Why is Broadband Important:

The proliferation of Broadband in a country is driven by a number of social, economical and technological factors. Access to Internet and its services/applications through a reliable broadband network will have a huge economic impact on the future. As per McKinsey Global Institute estimate, the potential economic impact of Internet based technology in terms of consumer surplus will range from $ 13 to $ 30 trillion by 2025. The share of developing countries in this economic impact is estimated approximately 43%2. Therefore, the need for inclusive growth has never been felt more than today. It is important to include the large rural population in the country in governance and decision making process to inculcate a sense of participation and self-determination. It is equally important to provide life enhancing urban-like amenities to the rural population in areas like health, education and entertainment. According to the World Bank’s estimates, a 10% increase in broadband penetration accelerates economic growth by 1.38% in developing countries. It is, therefore, natural that countries around the world are concerned about creating a robust broadband infrastructure that would sustain high growth of broadband services. Convergence of communications, media and IT is driving a host of new broadband services and creating new revenue streams across sectors and industries. For a country like India, the Government can play a critical role in diffusion of modern ICT such as broadband. NTP-2012 recognised telecom, including broadband connectivity as a basic necessity like education and health and envisaged work towards ‘Right to Broadband’.


The Broadband Supply Chain:

As policy makers consider plans and strategies for faster proliferation of broadband networks, it is important to recognize that such networks have many components. All of these parts must work together for the network to function effectively and efficiently. This section categorizes these components into four hierarchical levels, which together constitute the broadband supply chain: the local access network, metropolitan or backhaul link, the national backbone network, and international connectivity (figure 1.2).


The broadband supply chain as depicted in Figure 1.2 has four main components:

(i) Local access networks: provide the wireline and wireless infrastructure that end users utilize to connect to the broadband network.

(ii) Metropolitan or backhaul links: provide the connections between local areas and the national backbone network, usually via fibre optic cable (OFC) and microwave and, to a lesser extent, satellite. In a wireless network, these links are used to bring traffic from cell sites back to a switching centre (this is known as backhaul).

(iii) National backbone network: provides pathways for transmitting Internet data across a country, typically via microwave, satellite, and OFC links. This also includes traffic management, exchange, and routing as well as equipment related to enhancing efficiency and quality over IP networks such as Internet exchanges, metropolitan rings, and next-generation networks (NGNs).

(iv) Internet Link and International connectivity: ISPs also need to arrange for exchanging and routing their traffic to other networks around the world. Such arrangements ensure that Internet traffic can be delivered anywhere in the world, eliminating the need to have physical connections to every country. An ISP typically arranges to hand off its traffic at the points where its contracted physical connectivity terminates. International connectivity provides links to networks in other countries usually via satellite and OFC.  

Two additional points should be noted. First, the different levels of the overall broadband network should ideally be in sync. If insufficient backhaul capacity exists, then no matter what the speed of the access networks, high broadband speeds will simply not be achieved. High speeds in the local access network segment can only be realised if the speed and capacity in the national and international network segments are adequate to support them. Second, technology deployment is dependent on a country’s existing level of infrastructure. Countries without significant wireline infrastructure in the local access network may find it financially impractical to deploy ubiquitous wired networks, but they may be able to upgrade existing wireless networks. Similarly, countries often find it more financially attractive to leverage existing networks through upgrade or evolution than to deploy the latest state-of-the-art technology by building completely new networks.


International Experience

Governments around the globe have used various models to give impetus to the growth of broadband in their countries. While many countries have left the construction of broadband networks to the private sector, Governments in some countries either guarantee bilateral or multilateral loans for the construction of backbone networks or are full or partial owners of wholesale or retail service providers. A summary of the initiatives taken by some countries for penetration of broadband may be seen as Annexure.


Conclusion 

The objective of this Consultation Paper (CP) is to discuss issues contributing to the poor broadband penetration in India and solicit stakeholders’ views on actions required to be taken both by the Government and the service providers to accelerate the proliferation and use of broadband in the country.

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