Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Broadband hasn't grown as expected in India

Yes, I believe so! The numbers, if one were to contend with those alone, DO NOT meet the expectations. Broadband was and is considered to be the new paradigm of India. However, are we anywhere near whatever growth we have been expecting? Let's see the stats for the various telecom segments.

According to the statistics made available by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), the total number of telephone subscribers was 232.87 million at the end of July 2007, and the overall teledensity had increased to 20.52!

In the wireless segment, 8.06 million subscribers were added in July 2007 and the total wireless subscribers (GSM, CDMA and WLL (F)) base was 192.98 million. The wireline segment subscriber base stood at 39.89 million, with a decline of 0.20 million in July 2007.

And what about broadband? For broadband (≥256Kbps downloads), the total broadband connections in the country had reached only 2.47 million by the end of July 2007. In fact, during July 2007 there was an addition of 0.05 million connections!

Let's go back a few months! Venkat Kedalya of Convergent Communications had pointed out in an article to CIOL that India was nowhere on course to reach a target of 9 million broadband subscribers by this year! India has a target of achieving 20 million broadband subscribers by 2010, which now seems to be highly ambitious and well, unachievable!

Allocation of frequencies for BWA (broadband wireless access) is the immediate need of the moment. There is a need to look at WiMax and broadband over powerline (BPL) as far as technology is concerned. Some folks have entered the IPTV domain, so hopefully, we will get to see some content over broadband.

Even TRAI has urged the government to boost broadband growth. One of its suggestions has been to ask BSNL and MTNL to adopt a franchisee model so that local players may use their copper cables and offer high-speed Internet services. Decisions need to be taken for allocating spectrum for WiMax as well as making the National Internet Exchange of India more effective.

TRAI said: "Only 0.47 million broadband subscribers have been added in first six months of 2007, which is far below the growth trend required to achieve broadband policy targets. This necessitated an analysis of regulatory and policy frameworks, and to formulate new approach necessary for rapid roll-out of broadband in the country."

TRAI also accepts that while the growth of Internet subscribers was satisfactory, we are seriously lagging behind as far as broadband is concerned. It adds: "The government should ensure availability of more number of Ku-band transponders to roll out broadband services through DTH platform and utilize Universal Service Obligation (USO) fund to provide subsidy for providing broadband services through satellite in remote and hilly areas."

I'm not really sure how all of this will help. You do need at least a PC to access the Internet services. Am not sure how many folks are still willing to invest in home PCs and broadband, given that watching TV is a favorite pastime. Broadband over cable TV has not been a success either. What are we doing about this?