Monday, September 22, 2008

Creating a National Broadband Access Network

(This was written nearly two years ago; the suggestions remain valid and still need to be implemented.)
Singapore is considered a highly developed country and is used as a relevant benchmark for India, at least in the telecom sector. The Singapore Government has initiated an interesting and rather ambitious program to make the city nation the leading knowledge hub in the world. The masterplan called iN2015 (Intelligent Nation 2015), is a ten year blue-print to harness the power of infocomm for the nation ( One of the major initiatives within iN2015 is to build a Next Generation National Broadband Network (NBN). Just look at some of NBN's parameters: reach to 95% of all postal addresses, 100 Mbps capacity at each home / office on day 1 to be scaled upto 1Gbps in a few years' time! 

The most interesting thing about NBN is that it is being driven by the regulator / licensor, Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) as a public-private partnership. The model is simple. The IDA intends to license an operator to create a high speed access network as an equal access, wholesale infrastructure. All service providers would be able to lease this access network and offer innovative content and applications to their target segments. Considering the targeted bandwidth, only a fiber based solution (FTTX) would be feasible. A global search for the appropriate partner(s) in this initiative is underway, expected to be completed by the middle of 2007. 

In stark contrast, we have no such plan for the future, in fact, not even a discussion to arrive at such a plan. By defining Broadband at 256Kbps, we have already set our sights low. By treating Broadband Wireless as the panacea, we have converted a short-term bridging technology into our long term goal. By letting everyone do their own thing, we have ensured that the investments that are required to create a robust, national infrastructure are sub-optimally duplicated by several players.

India is a much "tougher" country than Singapore from a broadband perspective; the sheer geographical size of India that is required to be "broadbanded" is many, many times that of Singapore. More the reason why we need to plan today, if we want to be anywhere comparable in ten years' time. 

What needs to be done

* Accept that true broadband will require a fiber-based infrastructure, even in the last mile.

* Develop a plan to create a National Broadband Access Network; select an operator / consortium to roll-out the network in phases, over the next 5 years. The NBAN operator should be a pure wholesaler (similar to IP-2 license) and cannot directly be a service provider. The NBAN operator must get automatic and free right of way across the country, and could be selected on the basis of lowest subsidy required for a target tariff.

* Release spectrum in 2.5GHz and 3.5GHz bands immediately for WiMax roll-out during 2007 - this will enable basic broadband services to be introduced in a ubiquitous manner.

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