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Wireless to fuel broadband growth in India: seminar

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MUMBAI: Concerted efforts should be made to foster faster growth in broadband and increase telephony penetration into the rural areas, telecom experts at a seminar in Mumbai said.

India has a very low broadband penetration and it is wireless which will fuel the growth, Essar Teleholdings president Ajay Madan said, while speaking at a two-day international communications convergence on "Connecting India - The Global Challenge."

"The fixed line has as low as under four per cent copper penetration and private telecom operators have not found the solution yet. Broadband through cable TV is also not much as the sector is highly unorganised. India will have to find the answer through wireless," Madan said.

DSL is the driver for broadband penetration except in US and Canada where cable is strong. Broadband subscriptions by DSL account for 61 per cent across the globe while cable grabs 32 per cent of the share and others make up the balance seven per cent.

In Korea, there is a competitive ADSL provider (Hanaro) while cable and wireless providers also have a strong presence and wide coverage in the market. Korea also has wireless broadband at a low cost of $15 a month. Similarly, Japan has a high broadband penetration as the scenario is very competitive with over 50 ADSL providers.

"In high fixed line economies, broadband will grow. Content and the services sector are also driving broadband," said Madan.

India needs to take several steps even as the next generation broadband with video-on-demand (VoD), interactive TV, games, remote access to work and video conference applications hogging bandwidth. "Streamlining rights-of-way clearance, reducing leased line price, and dropping artificial regulatory costs are some of the measures which have to be taken," Madan said.

Speaking at the plenary session on "India Empowered," Ericsson India general manager - technical Bo Ribbing elaborated on how connectivity could benefit the common man. "The challenge is to reach out to the segments below $5 in India. But there are some positive changes which have taken place to breach this low-spending subscriber segment. The cost of terminal is coming down and is expected to further fall from $35 to $25 range by next year," he said.

Also speaking on the occasion was telecom analyst, strategy and policy unit, ITU, Geneva, Lara Srivastava. "The telecom industry is in a stage of transition and is moving from divergence to convergence markets. Mobile has taken over fixed lines. In 2004, mobile subscribers stood at 1.75 billion while fixed line had 1.19 billion users," she said.

In India, the number of new mobile subscribers each month for the period 1995-2001 went up from 0.05 to 0.1 million a month. "This has scaled up progressively and 4.5 million new subscribers were added in the month of December last year, proving that mobile teledensity is leading the way here," Srivastava said.

Former Tata Consultancy Services deputy chairman FC Kohli expressed two concerns - absence of a hardware computer industry and need for developing a security architecture for internet. "About 60 per cent of the e-mail is spam. Internet has no inherent security architecture. There is an opportunity for India to do research in this and develop the next generation of internet," Kohli said.

The seminar addressed other issues like the challenges and opportunities of increasing connectivity. Among the top speakers included SingTel India country director Arun Dagar, Asia Pacific Telecommunity executive director Amarendra Narayan and IIT professor Dr Ashok Jhunjhunwala.

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