TRAI advocates help of cable operators to spread broadband

NEW DELHI: Telecom Regulatory Authority of India chairman R S Sharma said connectivity was vital for digital India and Aadhaar had built the foundation for online linkages, adding that cable digital television systems could be used to enable delivery of broadband.

Speaking as the chief guest at the 2nd International Summit ‘India Satcom – 2016’ on the theme of Broadband for all using NextGen Satellite Technologies. Sharma admitted that certain ‘policy constraints have to be crossed.’

He said internet connectivity in India was barely fifteen per cent, though wireless connectivity was growing at a fast pace through smartphones. There were only twenty million phones in the country but almost the entire country was connected through mobile phones. He also suggested the introduction of wi-fi at all public places.

Referring to the Ka Band on satellite as earlier speakers had said the C-Band and Ku-band were already exhausted, Sharma said that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India had issued a paper in this connection in April last year.

The summit organized by the Broadband India Forum was aimed at showcasing the scope of catalysing achievement of socio-economic objectives with the use of innovations in Satellite Communications technology. It was supported by the Department of Electronic and Information Technology.

Department of Telecom Secretary and Telecom Commission chairman J S Deepak stressed the need of satellites for reaching difficult terrains and said that a new network in ten states using 2,200 towers had been put into operation for this purpose. Twelve per cent of the communication in these states was through satellite.

He said the Bharat Net Optic Fibre aimed to reach 2,50,000 gram panchayats in the next few years and 1,00,000 will be reached in the first phase by next year.

Phase II aimed to reach the rest through underground optic fibre, towers, radio and satellite which had already connected ten to 12 per cent of the country.

He also said that the country had adopted an liberal foreign direct investment regime with 74 per cent FDI being allowed in this sector. He claimed that India had received $ 200 billion in the last two years.

He said 90 per cent of the 6,00,000 villages in the country were covered by mobile phones and he wanted internet proliferation to growth on the same path. He said that Internet had grown from 300 to 400 million (from 30 to 40 crore) in fourteen months. The only way to reach all villages was a combination of broadband and smartphones.

All services that benefit people were expected to be online in the next two years, he said.

He said all this presented great opportunities for satellite communications and said the policy environment was conducive for this and was being further changed for migration to new technologies.

He said that even virtual network operator licences were not available in the country, he concluded, adding that ‘satcom is an idea whose time has come.’

In a message read out in absentia, Indian Space Research Organisation chairman and secretary in the Department of Space A S Kiran Kumar said it was necessary to set up robust growth technology and the networks to receive this.

Hughes Networks Systems president Pranav Roach said, "We know broadband penetration levels are extremely low in India. High throughput satellites are a natural fit to help improve broadband penetration. Satellite broadband is a proven technology, delivering high-speed services to users worldwide. Ka-band satellite-based networks are able to deliver affordable, immediate and ubiquitous broadband access to users."

He said it was ironic that India was the largest exporter of software but lagged behind in consumption, and therefore government had to step in to help the industry.

BIF chairman M F Farooqui said "Broadband in India will have to be delivered not by one technology but through a mix of technologies. Satellite communication is one of the more important means of achieving broadband to the rural and remote areas and for fulfilling the goals of Govt's Digital India initiative.”

Phases X and V Satcast, USA, Chairman and CEO Ven Fotheringham said the cost of distribution, the increasing demand for more content through video and OTT, and the need for newer and better set top boxes were some of the problems that had to be grappled with. He said in the United States, 72 per cent of the content was generated by just 30 per cent experts within the country.

The summit in different sessions deliberated on the deployment of satellite communication (satcom) technologies – existing and next generation – to expedite penetration of affordable Broadband in India, especially in remote, rural regions, to complement other broadband technologies such as optical fibre, mobile, cable etc.

BIF president T V Ramachandran said “India has much to gain once broadband penetration, currently at a low 10 per cent or so, picks up momentum from new technology innovations and investments. Satellite sommunication technologies with its manifold innovations & applications could lead the country to the cusp of a digital revolution with associated boost to the efforts of other initiatives like Make in India, Skilling India and a spurt in FDI.”

The summit deliberations also covered policy and regulatory issues to drive deployment of satcom technologies in support of national socio-economic programs such as Digital India, Make in India and Broadband for all. But such flagship programs need billions of dollars in annual funds – a huge challenge due to misconceptions surrounding satcom technologies. Though one of the fastest means to ensure Internet and Broadband connectivity across India, satcom is erroneously termed as unaffordable, inaccessible and, therefore, unavailable for deployment in India’s highly price-sensitive market. This is as erroneous as the early 1990s’ perception that mobile phones were expensive technology toys not needed by common people.

The summit speakers stressed broadband service over satellite needed to be affordable (consumer price), accessible (all across India) and available 24x7 (both fixed location and mobile). Affordability is crucial because Broadband Satellite services in India are far more expensive than in the US (284 times on a normalized scale of package capacity, services price and pricing parity). Innovation, long-term commitment of public projects, liberalised policies that attract more local private players and foreign companies were important measures to curb costs and ensure affordability. These measures could also boost accessibility and availability.

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