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    Hello and welcome to a webchat with Bhupesh Bhandari on 'Problems with broadband and the way forward'


    Hello everyone

  • V


    Hi Bhupesh. The obvious question: What do you think is/are obstacle for broadband today? And how can it/they be streamlined to push broadband in India?


    Hi Vardhan, the building blocks are all there. The spectrum sharing/trading norms are in place; the 3G footprint, which enables broadband, is well established, and handset prices are really low -- you can buy a smartphone for as little as Rs 2,000. The 3G footprint is almost national: 70-75 per cent in terms of area and up to 85 per cent in terms of population. 4G services have been launched. The crucial question is the cost of broadband. Voice tariffs in India are the lowest in the world. There is reason to believe that broadband tariffs will follow suit. Airtel offers 4G broadband at 3G prices. Reliance Jio's entry will ensure that tariffs stay low. So the future for broadband looks good. And my intuition is that there will be a deluge of content to feed the broadband ecosystem, including that in regional languages.

  • J


    Is there hope for us in India that we will get better broadband speed, equivalent to developed countries, anytime soon? What are the problems that result in broadband not being satisfactory even in this day and age?


    There is reason to be hopeful. Spectrum-related issues have been resolved. Handsets have become affordable. The 3G footprint is more or less national. 4G services have been launched. A whole lot of companies are looking for innovative ways to reach broadband to undeserved areas. Bharti Airtel has invested in OneWeb which plans to send 648 low-orbit satellites between 2017 and 2019 in order to reach broadband to the remotest corner. Google wants to provide internet through hot-air balloons and gliders. The only glitch is the government's plan to create a national fibre optic network to connect all villages, which is running behind schedule. Also, putting up telecom towers is tough.

  • A


    Is it true that the broadband wave has little to no scope of percolating into rural areas?


    It ought to have happened faster. The government should step up the pace of work on a national fibre optic network, which is way behind schedule. The telecom companies realise that the next round of growth in broadband will come from the rural markets and ought to invest more to improve the infrastructure. But they are hampered by annual licence fees and spectrum user charges, which account for a large chunk of their earnings. The money that ought to have gone into the telecom network goes into the government's coffers. The high cost of spectrum has caused their debt to rise. The high interest payout too impacts their ability to invest in their networks.

  • A


    The present central government, quite like the previous one, keeps trying to hard-sell the fact that rural broadband penetration is increasing at a rapid clip. Is the penetration, after all, really so rapid that it should be seen as something to cheer about?


    Some months back, the International Telecom Union and UNESCO had come out with a report on broadband penetration which showed that India still has a long distance to cover. It showed that India had slipped sharply in global rankings both in broadband penetration between 2013 and 2014. But some careful analysis of the data will sow that the situation is not so dismal. Fixed broadband is down because fixed-line telephony is down: people have moved directly to the mobile phone for broadband. Their first taste of the internet is on the mobile phone. The same report showed that mobile broadband penetration improved from 3.2 per cent in 2013 to 5.5 per cent in 2014, which is not so bad. The study also showed that the number of households with an internet connection and the number of individuals accessing the internet have risen sharply between the two years.

  • K


    A major challenge is getting good internet speed on the go — during long travels by trains, for example. What are the technical hitches that are causing this?


    It just requires some investment on the part of the railways and the telecom companies. The 3G network covers about three-fourths of the country, in terms of area, which leaves large "dark spots". Once the footprint is truly national, one can get a seamless broadband experience while traveling from one place to another. It is very much possible. We have to look at the reasons that are holding back the telecom companies from investing in their network.

  • B


    Sir, given our sharpened focus on 'Digital India' and the need to provide increased services across the board, shouldn't India raise the benchmarks for broadband? What's your take?


    Yes, it should. I can see signs of that happening. People are migrating to the 3G networks rapidly, which offer a better internet experience. The big move ahead will be the 4G services. Prices are expected to be competitive, which means high adoption by consumers. Please remember, Dhriubhai Ambani had told his son, Mukesh, when he first launched telecom services that his venture will succeed only if a call costs less than a postcard. I think the same philosophy will drive Reliance Jio's current foray, which is data heavy. The incumbents are financially strong and could match Reliance Jio's tariffs. We have seen that Bharti Airtel launched 4G services at 3G tariffs. So consumers stand to gain in the days to come.

  • A


    Hello Bhupeshji, how does one get better broadband speed? In spite of much advertisement by telecom operators and all talks of 3G and 4G, getting good internet speed even at home seems quite major challenge.


    Hello Anil, you are absolutely right. The internet experience is not what it should be. There are several reasons for it. One, there could be some substance in the charge that telecom companies have not invested adequately in their networks. They do save a lot of money by not putting up towers: up to Rs 50 lakh in a city and Rs 20 lakh in a village. But it is also true that it is not easy to put up towers. Many people are reluctant to give their terraces for mobile towers because of radiation fears. The Union government had promised to make its buildings available for towers but there is hardly any progress. Two, the indoor and outdoor networks of mobile companies do not talk to each other. That's why the internet experience inside buildings drops. However, now that the government looks prepared to auction spectrum in lower frequencies, 800 MH and 700 MH, the indoor internet experience will improve. These bands have better propagation qualities.

  • J


    What do you think is the driving factor behind the urgent need for better broadband? Is it only the high youth-driven demand and expansion of internet-based technology?


    Entertainment is definitely one strong factor. Information could be another. Let us not forget the ability of mobile internet to impact human lives. There is enough anecdotal evidence of people accessing the internet on their mobile phones to find solutions to their various problems. And app developers have responded to that. If we look at the popular apps and the problems they seek to solve, we will get a fair idea of what all people use their smartphones for.


    Thanks, Bhupesh, for answering our readers' queries on 'Problems with broadband and the way forward'

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