As the country prepares to embark on the 5G journey, achieving nationwide connectivity has become the need of the hour. In this context, fibre has gained relevance. The government has been encouraging all industry stakeholders to work together to scale up fibre roll-out. The central government’s BharatNet programme has been instrumental in driving fibre uptake throughout the country. However, ensuring last-mile connectivity is a task that requires adequate participation of the state governments. Therefore the government has modified BharatNet’s implementation strategy to assign a bigger role to the states for expediting fibre roll-out. Till date, eight states have come forward to roll out projects aimed at enhancing optical fibre connectivity. These projects will help in building the desired fibre infrastructure to drive digital growth in the country while laying the groundwork for future-ready networks.
tele.net takes stock of the key projects undertaken by the state governments to bolster fibre connectivity in the country…
The Andhra Pradesh government has launched the AP Fiber Grid project, which aims to provide high-speed broadband access, cable TV services and telephone connections through optical fibre cable (OFC). It is being implemented by Andhra Pradesh State FibreNet Limited and entails a total cost of Rs 3.33 billion. It involves laying 22,500 km of all dielectric self supporting OFC. To cut costs, 375,000 electric poles are being used to set up the fibre network. Further, 2,449 points of presence will be established at substations. Under Phase I of the implementation process, aerial fibre has been deployed on utility poles.
The state’s fibre grid has been identified as one of the five critical grids to accelerate growth in Andhra Pradesh, the others being power, water, road and gas. All district command and control centres, public CCTVs and the state wide area network will be integrated into the grid. Over 10 million households, 50,000 schools and educational institutions, 5,000 government hospitals and health centres, and all government and panchayat offices are expected to benefit from the project.
In terms of usage, around 80,000 households had been connected to the grid in Vishakhapatnam district alone, as of December 2018.
The Tamil Nadu government has launched the TamilNet project, which proposes to connect all corporations, municipalities and town panchayats through OFC. The government plans to lay an OFC network spanning 55,000 km under the BharatNet and TamilNet projects. The OFC network will ensure at least 1 Gbps connectivity to 12,524 village panchayats, 528 town panchayats, 121 municipalities and 15 corporations. The TamilNet project is being implemented by state-owned Tamil Nadu FiberNet Corporation under the public-private partnership model with funding assistance from state undertakings like Electronics Corporation of Tamil Nadu Limited and Tamil Nadu Arasu Cable TV Corporation Limited.
The Telangana government’s T-Fiber initiative aims to enable affordable and high speed broadband connectivity. Under the project, OFC is being laid alongside the state government’s drinking water pipeline project, Mission Bhagiratha. The state plans to invest around Rs 55 billion in the project. Besides laying OFC, a network operations centre will be set up to monitor the network infrastructure.
Under the project, digital services will be provided across 10 zones to 31 districts, 584 mandals, 8,778 gram panchayats (GPs), 10,128 villages, 8.3 million households and more than 35 million people. While households will be able to access speeds of 16-20 Mbps, public and private institutes will be able to access 1 Gbps speeds after the completion of the roll-out.
As of July 26, 2019, digging and construction of OFC ducts covering 65,000 km has been completed while 10,000 km is yet to be executed. The government is targeting September 2019 as the deadline for connecting 50 per cent GPs under the project. By March 2020, all GPs are expected to have internet connectivity.
The Kerala government’s Kerala Fibre Optic Network (KFON) is being implemented jointly by the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) and Kerala State IT Infrastructure. The project aims to create an OFC network parallel to KSEB’s distribution network at an estimated cost of Rs 10.28 billion. In March 2019, a consortium led by Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), comprising RailTel Corporation and SRIT India Private Limited, was selected for the execution of the project.
The project involves the development, management and operation of an OFC network to provide high speed connectivity across all districts, blocks, panchayats and urban local bodies. The network infrastructure will be accessible on a non-discriminatory basis to provide on-demand, affordable broadband connectivity of 2-100 Mbps for all households.
In the first phase, it aims to connect 35,000 government offices via the OFC network. In the second phase, dark fibre will be leased to media houses, IT parks and others. The project also entails the provision of basic internet service to all citizens and free internet connectivity to two million families below the poverty line. The project is expected to be completed by 2020.
The Maharashtra government’s MahaNet project is being implemented by state-led nodal agency Maharashtra Information Technology Corporation. The aim is to establish a scalable and futuristic state-wide optical fibre network with telecom carrier-grade capabilities. The network will be established across 13,000 GPs. The GPs will be digitally connected to village blocks through underground/aerial optical fibre and broadband connectivity will be provided through Wi-Fi hotspots.
To expedite fibre roll-out, the Maharashtra government has given MahaNet the status of an “important public purpose” project. The state cabinet has allowed the use of all the existing infrastructure for laying optic fibre. Any charges demanded by local bodies to allow the use of infrastructure have also been waived.
As of May 29, 2019, trenching and ducting work was completed for 9,000 km of OFC. The project is expected to be completed by February 2020.
The Gujarat government’s fibre roll-out project aims to create a state-to-village fibre grid and build common government-owned infrastructure to provide internet connectivity across the state. Around 35,000 km of OFC is expected to be laid under the project. The government has set up a special purpose vehicle, Gujarat Fibre Grid Network Limited, for project implementation.
Through the project, the government aims to connect 7,692 GPs in Gujarat including 170 districts and taluka centres, and provide high speed internet connectivity of up to 100 Mbps per GP. The internet speed can be extended up to 1 Gbps per GP with a few upgrades.
As of July 30, 2019, 6,417 km of OFC has been laid, trenching and ducting work has been completed across 10,920 km and 731 GPs have been connected. The project is expected to be completed by 2020.
The Chhattisgarh government has launched a fibre roll-out project, which is being implemented by Chhattisgarh Infotech Promotion Society. The project entails the laying of 32,466 km of OFC infrastructure in ring architecture with IP-MPLS technology. The proposed optical fibre network will be leveraged to deliver scalable bandwidth to households, institutions and enterprises. The project aims to connect 26 million people in the region. It will help in providing free high speed broadband connectivity ranging from 1 Gbps to 10 Gbps through Wi-Fi hotspots. The project is expected to be completed by July 2019.
The way ahead
While the launch of these state-level fibre projects is a step in the right direction, it needs to be complemented with strict monitoring of the implementation process. Further, the state governments need to eliminate procedural and implementation delays, ensure investment inflows and promote collaboration between private and public sector entities. This will provide a major impetus to India’s digital drive by catering to rural aspirations. s
Kuhu Singh Abbhi