Everybody seems to jump on to the Broadband wagon, but no one really seems to understand where it is headed. Various players have different strategies and technologies to bring to India. What we have ultimately is a lot of confusion. And utter chaos.
With its large territorial expanse and geographical mix, India is definitely a lucrative market for a number of players in this field. According to industry analysts, the Indian broadband market in 2002-03 is expected to be worth Rs 200 crore. However, broadband in India is at a very nascent stage of its evolution. Terrestrial broadband options such as Ethernet or Wireless in corporate offices, Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) for SOHOs/SMEs and Cable Internet for Home segment are available, but not uniformly across the country – since most of the broadband optic-fiber rings are available only in large cities.
India has a tele-density of 4.5 per cent and about five million Internet subscribers. Most of the telecom infrastructure is first-generation TDM equipment, and is not primed to deliver new-world connectivity and services. Having said that, India is ideally positioned to leverage off its late mover advantage – by leapfrogging to the third generation telecommunications platforms.
Also, very few localities in India have proper broadband connectivity all the way to the last mile. Even the network building is slow primarily because many companies are individually trying to build those networks. There is also the lack of regulation and fragmentation in the cable segment. Wireless technologies can play a huge role in deploying broadband in this country. Japan's NTT DoCoMo is a perfect example of successful IP connectivity through airwaves. Of course, none of this removes the necessity of citywide, statewide, and countrywide broadband backbones.
Confusion lies also in which technology to adopt considering factors such as Internet penetration, the fragmentation of such penetration, government regulations, infrastructure availability et al. Some feel, considering India’s large territorial expanse and geographical mix, satellites would be one of the fastest and most economical ways to deliver broadband across the country. However, most are banking on ‘Cable’ as an ideal medium for proliferating broadband in India. India currently has about 40 million cable TV subscribers. And all are potential customers. The growth of the cable Industry in India has been unregulated, though, and there are innumerable small and medium size service providers here, unlike the US, where massive consolidation has taken place and there are a total of 7-8 service providers in the cable Industry. What is required here is consolidation among the service providers. Where the medium level service providers buy out the majority of India’s small cable operators.
Across the world, governments are poised to create regulatory and legal environments conducive to the age of convergence. The British government wishes to make the country the best place in the world for e-business. South Korea and Japan have similar plans. And Singapore is well on its way to becoming the most wired nation on earth. In each of these countries governments are taking the lead in addressing the demands and challenges of convergence.
The future of Broadband technology in India is vested in consolidation of companies, technology and services. On the service provider front, one could witness a lot of consolidation in the industry with a few strong players emerging as national players. On the technology front, there will be convergence of voice, video and data on a single platform. On the service front, some popular services that will emerge are IP Telephony, Interactive TV and Video on Demand, among others. As the operators consolidate and more corporatization happens, the size of the network will grow dramatically in terms of number of subscribers per headend. In addition regulation, Conditional Access System becoming mandatory will transform the nature of this business in India. Telecom companies may shift to delivering these services and will deploy a lot of long haul solutions carrying these signals across cities and states.
But, eventually, broadband will rise to the top because it is the natural evolution of technology. Just as the top speed of cars rose from 50 kilometers an hour to over 200, access bandwidth too will grow as the technology grows to provide more media-rich sites and larger downloads become available.