Challenges of Providing Broadband Connectivity to Masses in Emerging India Market


  • Narinder Chhibber, Secretary General, Pacific Telecommunications Council, India Foundation




India, a country of 1.23 billion people and an emerging market is one of the seven biggest economies of the world. Despite having made an impressive mark in Information Technology sector, India's overall broadband penetration is as low as 28 percent of its population. In rural India, where two-third of the country's population live, broadband is as low as 15 percent. The main barriers to broadband adoption in India are the poor economic condition of nearly thirty percent of the country's population living in villages and slums in cities and their nearly non familiarity in computer operation. Regulatory hurdles, lack of fibre infrastructure, resulting in poor quality of service, last-mile connectivity issues and financial constraints of operators are also responsible for low penetration of broadband connectivity. In addition telecom operators are facing competition from Wi-Fi providers, OTT players, cable companies - all which force telecom companies to rethink strategies so that they can increase revenue from broadband users.

A Government of India project to create National Optical Fibre Network to provide connectivity to rural India at acost of US$ 4 billion is now in final phase and is expected to be completed by end 2018. There will be further last-mile access network through wireless, which is simultaneously being built. Another access solution being evaluated is setting up of base station towers for Wi-Fi hot spots and using solar panels along with low-cost devices.

Broadband penetration in urban India is on growth path, as about 300 cities are being made as Smart Cities, where IoT and M2M technologies will be the main requirements. Similarly in remaing cities and in villages, smart infrastructure for basic utilities is under planning and is expected to be provided in next three years. 4G networks for pan India are also being commissioned in phases and low-cost 4G handsets are being made available to masses at affordable prices. In congested areas of old cities, where FTTH is not feasible in all parts of the most of the houses, Heterogenous Networks of fibre cable and forthcoming 5G technology networks could be the solution to provide broadband in all parts of such buildings.

However, the real challenges are to make low-income people in emerging markets conversant with the use of Internet / broadband and to ensure its usefulness in daily life activities. The telecom industry has been one of the major contributers for economic growth in emerging markets. In order to achieve resonably high GDP growth level, the telecom industry will have to revolutionize the current way of functioning of ICT services. For this to happen, participation is required from various stake holders, both government and private. The government thrust should be on increasing rural connectivity by addressing hurdles by facilitating various policies and improve investment climate through fast-tracking reforms. At the same time, private players will need to invest in improving the capabilities for rollout of telecom infrastructure.

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