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RailTel: Leveraging its RoW to expand broadband reach

March 11, 2016
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The RailTel Corporation was established in 2000 under the Ministry of Railways with an aim to modernise the railways’ communication network and augment the national telecom infrastructure, especially in rural and remote areas. Currently, it is one of the largest telecom infrastructure providers in the country, owning a pan-Indian optic fibre network with exclusive right-of-way (RoW) access along railway tracks. The company has an optic fibre cable (OFC) network of 44,279 km, spanning more than 4,400 railway stations.

RailTel offers a wide array of managed telecom services including managed leased lines, tower colocation, multiprotocol label switching-based virtual private networks (VPNs) and next-generation network-based voice carriage services. In 2013, the company started its retail broadband initiative, RailWire. This platform provides broadband access to users in public-private partnership mode wherein the licence obligation, telecom infrastructure, network security and customer authentication is done by RailTel, and last mile access is provided by access network providers such as local cable operators. The company has also diversified into various other segments and is focusing in particular on the enterprise market. In February 2015, it launched telepresence as a service (TPaas) in collaboration with Cisco. TPaaS is a secure multipoint managed full HD video conferencing service that enables organisations to communicate/collaborate with different user groups internally and externally. The service is based on an opex model, wherein RailTel sets up the necessary equipment and provides technological upgradation services as and when required. RailTel has also set up three Tier III data centres that offer server colocation, dedicated hosting and management, cloud computing, and other IT-related services.

Key projects

RailTel has been selected as one of the implementing agencies (along with Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited and Power Grid Corporation of India Limited) for the BharatNet project (erstwhile National Optical Fibre Network). BharatNet aims to provide high speed broadband connectivity to 250,000 gram panchayats (GPs) in the country. RailTel has been allotted 11 states and union territories comprising 3,600 GPs for providing broadband services. These include Gujarat, Daman and Diu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, and Nagaland. The company has already commissioned broadband services in some of these regions. For instance, in July 2015, it successfully executed a project in Puducherry, under which all the 98 GPs in three blocks of Villianur, Ariyankuppam and Karaikal were connected with high-speed rural broadband services on an OFC link. Further, in September 2015, RailTel signed an MoU to roll out RailWire services in 424 GPs of Sabarkantha district, Gujarat.

Moreover, under the Connected India-2020 project, RailTel plans to provide broadband connectivity to 500,000 households through its RailWire network at the block level in the next two years. This move is in line with the objectives of the Digital India initiative that aims to build broadband highways. The broadband highway will involve a three-layer network from state capitals to district headquarters, district to sub-divisions and to GPs, which will then be joined to the BharatNet project. RailWire has roped in local cable operators for this project with a focus on pure play broadband and VPN services, content, and application-driven networks.

In a bid to enhance telecom connectivity at railway stations, RailTel has deployed the RailWire Wi-Fi facility at a number of stations, including New Delhi, Bangalore City, Madgaon and Ghazipur. Further, it has collaborated with Google to provide high-speed public Wi-Fi services at 400 railway stations across the country. As part of this collaboration, RailWire Wi-Fi services were launched at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus station in Mumbai in January 2016. Wi-Fi network deployment at the 100 stations is expected to be completed by end-2016. Recently, RailTel also signed an MoU with the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation for providing Wi-Fi at five metro stations: Rajiv Chowk, Kashmere Gate, Vishwavidyalaya, Central Secretariat and Hauz Khas.

The way forward

In the next few years, RailTel plans to serve as a hub for local information and provide a host of broadband services including online newspapers, online passport applications, e-medicine and examination results, at a minimum speed of 2 Mbps. Given the company’s large-scale capacity ground infrastructure, as well as project management, implementation and maintenance expertise, RailTel should aim to evolve into a telecom service provider besides being an infrastructure provider/partial internet service provider. This would enable the company to enhance its broadband reach in rural areas, irrespective of the BharatNet project, which has missed its deadline several times in the past.

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