Testbed: India Surely Needs One

In the past few years India has seen large growth in its telecom and Internet
infrastructure. The fixed line and cellular subscribers base has shown a steep
rise. Fiber cables carrying hundreds of megabits have been laid. International
fiber links have made gigabits (to future terabits) capacities available. A
whole range of equipment and technologies are being deployed in the national
network. New technologies like IP/WDM and VoIP are being adopted. Stress has
been put on networking research, both for high-end broadband technologies and
low-cost technologies suitable to extend the reach of our networks to rural

Such a growth has put huge demands on all the participants –the telecom
service providers, equipment manufacturers and the research institutions.
Research institutions need to develop and test high-end broadband technologies
at the same time as their standards are being developed and adopted globally. An
environment needs to be created to ease development of low-cost and
wide-reaching networking technologies suitable to Indian conditions. The
equipment makers need to develop products based on latest international
standards and test their interoperability with a large range of existing
international products. The telecom service providers need to choose products
that have been tested for conformance with the current international standards,
which puts pressure on test labs to develop test suites at the same pace as
these technologies are being standardized. Tools need to be developed to
monitor, manage and troubleshoot large telecom networks.

A 3D model of the vBNS network that connects universities and laboratories in the US shows how traffic flows over the links

All these requirements ask for creation of a large networking testbed
consisting of varied networking equipment, linked through high- and low-speed
wireline and wireless links. The testbed can provide facility for conducting
networking research and for testing of equipment and technologies. It is
suggested that such an initiative be taken through participation of the
government research and test labs, academic institutions and the industry.

Testbed Examples
Such networking testbed initiatives have been successful in the US and
Singapore and we can broadly follow their examples to device an appropriate
strategy for India.

n vBNS: The US
government R&D funding organization, National Science Foundation (NSF) has
given grants to create a high-speed nationwide network, called very
high-performance Backbone Network Service (vBNS). The network connects 221
universities and research organizations on links ranging from tens of megabits
to 10 gigabit speeds. The institutions are carrying research on high-speed
networking, like protocol enhancements for Next Generation Internet (NGI),
distributed high-speed computing, data mining, remote imaging, tele-collaboration,
etc. This year, another $2.25 million is to be granted to 15 more institutions.
The availability of this high-speed network has resulted in the networking
industry sponsoring a large number of projects to these institutions for
development of high-end broadband technologies and equipment.

Indian service providers can adopt new broadband equipment and technologies at the same time as these appear internationally
They get to choose equipment after being convinced of wide-ranging compatibility 
India will soon have a good number of professionals well trained in network planning, integration, performance monitoring, troubleshooting

n SINGAREN: Singapore government too has created a large network testbed.
Singapore had established a large broadband network in 1995 that was extended in
1997 to create Singapore Advanced Research & Education Network (SINGAREN)
testbed. SINGAREN is a high-speed network to support research, advanced
technology development and testing. It serves users from academia, research
organizations and industry. The activity is funded and managed by the government
R&D organization there and has participating universities and partners from
the industry. The testbed has a 155 Mbps ATM backbone linking all the
participants. The network links to vBNS in the US and universities in Canada and
Japan through high-speed international links. The participating universities are
conducting research in developing broadband equipment, NGI applications,
performance testing tools, network traffic simulators, troubleshooting tools,
etc. The testbed is also being used for conformance and compatibility testing of
networking equipment to be deployed in networks in Singapore.

Strategy for India
The Indian testbed will need to be created with participation from the
Government, academic and research institutions, and the industry. The
participants will include the government research organization NCST, government
testing lab TEC, universities like IITs/IISc/RECs, industry equipment
manufacturers, software development industry, and sponsors like telecom service
providers and global networking MNCs . Some of these participants have already
been successfully conducting the ERNET research experiment in the last decade
and that experience should help in the success of this initiative.

n Funding: The testbed creation would initially be funded by the
government. However, once the testbed is created, it would result in the
industry sponsoring projects with the participating universities to conduct
research in areas of their interest. In the long run, the activity will be
self-sustaining with funding from the industry.

n Infrastructure: The infrastructure would consist of broadband
networking equipment linked through multimegabits-speed wireline links.
International links would be used to connect to universities in US, and other
countries, for collaborative research. The wireless links would be provided in
all forms–local, cellular and satellite. Environment will also be created for
low-cost and low-speed links suitable for research for rural telephony and
Internet access in India.

A nationwide testbed on the model of vBNS or SINGAREN promises loads of
benefits in the form of:

Conformance Testing: For growth of Indian telecom network, it is important
that Indian telecom service providers adopt the new broadband equipment and
technologies at the same time as these appear internationally. This asks for the
test suites to be developed at the same speed as the ongoing international
research in the technology, instead of waiting for commercialization of the

Compatibility Testing: Even though networking equipment may conform to the
same standards, due to a large range of options available in each standard
document, two such conforming equipment may still not interoperate. The problem
is addressed by equipment manufacturers internationally by conducting
compatibility testing of their equipment at different forums. The testbed will
create such an environment within India by supporting a range of equipment from
different vendors. This will give telecom service providers the freedom to
choose equipment from different vendors after being convinced of their
compatibility through such testing.

Networking Research: Research can be conducted for developing appropriate low
cost and wide reach wireline and wireless products to make telecom networks
easily accessible across rural India and remote locations. High-end broadband
networking equipment and technologies can be developed to cater to international
high-speed network requirements. Research can be performed on 4G cellular
technologies. Software research can be conducted to develop high performance
applications for NGI.

Training: Finally, the availability of a large testbed of varied equipment
will create an environment to train our professionals in network planning,
integration, performance monitoring, troubleshooting, etc. India needs a large
trained manpower and the testbed facility can provide such training.

Vimal Kumar Khanna
Honorary technical editor, IEEE Communications" (pub.
New York)

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