By Mr. Abhinandan Sharma, Senior Vice President, Citadel Intelligent Systems Ltd
Digital India campaign was launched by our Prime Minister on 1st July 2015 with the aim of connecting India (especially rural) through high-speed Internet networks. This initiative ensures that the Government services are made available to citizens electronically by improved online infrastructure and by increasing internet connectivity or by making the country digitally empowered in the field of technology.
The Digital India’s vision areas were:
- Digital Infrastructure as a core utility to every citizen
- Governance and services on demand and
- Digital empowerment of citizens
Steps Undertaken by the Government to drive Digital Connectivity in India:
The government has taken lots of steps to improve digital connectivity. BharatNet project is the most important of those. It involves fiber connectivity to 250000 gram Panchayats. Additionally, target of connecting the remaining 42300 villages by FY18 by mobile telephony. Apart from this there has been an imperative for the government to move all public process online, including e-tenders, e-procurement, BHIM app-based payments, e-governance, etc. Projects have been launched under the Digital Campus scheme for providing free WIFI to more than 50000 campuses across India.
While the drive and need for Digital India is on the upswing, the main enabler is a reliable Internet connection or broadband. Internet speed decides how fast we can access online data, transfer files, stream videos, get connected. As per TRAI broadband is a data connection that can support interactive services including internet access and has the capability of the minimum download speed of 512Kbps to an individual subscriber from the Point of Presence (POP) of the service provider intending to provide the Broadband service. Below 512Kbps it’s considered narrowband.
The total number of Internet subscribers as per TRAI was approx. 460million as of July2018. Out of this roughly 80% are broadband users, including both wired as well as wireless. The number of broadband subscribers is approx. 35%. So, there is still 65% of Indian population left untapped and untouched. The same is denoted by below figure. It also shows the potential of Indian market once major portion of the Indian population is digitally connected.
Although lots of work is being done, still there’s major ground to be covered. India still ranks 107 in e-governance index, Fixed broadband still counts for paltry 4-5% of total broadband subscribers, still more than 60% of Indian public are still un-connected.
Broadband technologies can be segregated into wired and wireless. While the wired technologies involve Copper wires, Co-axial Cables, Broadband over power line, Optical fibers, Wired broadband generally takes one of the following technologies: Antenna sites for wireless connections (Wimax, Wifi, LTE etc), Satellite broadband, Internet Baloons, Light Fidelity(Lifi). If we take a pie for broadband penetration, around 5% is wired while 95% is wireless which mainly involves LTE, Wifi etc.
Right now, LTE in Wireless and copper in wired are the major drivers in broadband technologies. Although copper takes major share in wired connectivity right now, fiber has gained a lot of prominence over the past 4-5 yrs.
How Fiber Deployment is being considered game changer for Digital India
The importance of Fiber lies in the advantages it offers as compared to traditional copper cabling
- Fiber optic transmission is faster
- Fiber optic transmission results in less attenuation
- Distance covered with fiber is far greater than copper
- Fiber optic cables are impervious to electromagnetic interference:
- Fiber optic diameter is far less as compared to the copper cable. Roughly 6-24nos of fiber can be put in diameter of a single CAT6 cable
- Fiber optic cables do not break as easily:
Since data hunger is increasing on an exponential basis, attenuation and distance carrying capacity take priority in the selection criteria of transmission media. Hence fiber is being considered the base of home broadband.
The visible part of fiber deployment is FTTx. FTTx denotes the location till which fiber is extended. So even if we might get copper cable in our homes, the backbone is mainly fiber. ISP’s were the one’s who were carrying the baton of FTTx for the last decade, but now all the major operators are either deploying or have aggressive deployment plans for near future. If we consider triple play services like IPTV, Telephony, Web browsing long with CCTV over the same channel, the importance of fiber is clearly highlighted.
The major reason why telecom players were not invested in fiber was due to lack of ROI and need of huge investments. Now with the huge fiber deployment of fiber through BharatNet project, this problem looks solved. Now anybody can lease fiber from government and piggyback their last mile FTTx deployment and offer digital services.
If we look at wireless broadband, the backbone of both outdoor Wifi and LTE networks need to be on fiber to cater to customer bandwidth requirements. Now even RF cables in telecom sites are being replaced with fiber for benefits related to attenuation.
So, although fiber is a hidden commodity, it’s going to be the backbone of Digital India dream. If we dream to bring India to global connectivity levels and make all the digital services available to mass public, fiber must play a major part. That’s the reason that now all telecom players as well as government are working together to connect every village and every home through fiber.
Changing Indian broadband landscape:
If we see how Indian connectivity changed over years, present can be termed as the golden era of communication. Until 2008 we had 2G for wireless while mainly copper connectivity was option for broadband connectivity. We were lagging far behind as compared to all major developing nation in terms of connectivity and inclusion. The last decade has brought about major transformation in terms of data-speeds. While we were satisfied with 256Kbps data-speeds earlier, now 20Mbps and beyond is becoming a norm. Also major shift has taken with advent of LTE in the past two years I remember that earlier I used to recharge my mother’s mobile with 1Gb data and at the end of the month even that that was unused. Now after just a span of 1year even 1Gb per day seems insufficient as constantly devotional videos are streamed online.
How connectivity (Home Broadband) transforms life
Home broadband opens plethora of opportunities as defined below. It creates financial inclusion for those who didn’t imagine earlier, quality education if not a forte only of privileged, brings global markets near. In fact it has initiated the next industrial revolution where each home becomes a potential industry.
Access to Information: For a country like India where 60 to 70% of population lives in Rural India, connectivity brings access to government policies, development, financial tools, economy and ways to improve lives
A Global Village: Now we can truly imbibe in “Vasudev Kutumbakam” or that the world is a family. No distance is long as we can communicate with anybody across the globe.
Online Shopping: Online connectivity has opened doors for e-commerce. Now we can order a Pashmina shawl made in Jammu, through a distributor in new Delhi sitting in our homes in Mumbai.
Online Banking: No worries if a person doesn’t have a bank branch in his village. All banking transactions can be performed online with minimal contact requirement from a physical banking outlet
Work from Home: The internet has made it possible for millions of people to work from home. This has brought a new opportunity for housewives who had to leave their jobs for family reasons to again be part of mainstream workforce.
While Digital India initiative started in 2016, the wagon had already started rolling. Internet connectivity and its access to all is considered a game changer for Indian society as a whole. We could just imagine how much Indian society could change and benefit once we get to global connectivity averages in terms of Internet penetration. And above all we need to remember how can we realize the digital India dream. It’s only possible through large reliable and low loss physical connectivity mainly driven by fiber.