The Government of India is encouraging a transition towards 5G networks. “5G” is defined as any system that uses 5G new radio (NR) technology. These are cellular networks with service areas divided into geographical units called “cells”. To enable the transition to 5G, states must possess the necessary infrastructure, which includes the massive use of optical fibre cables (OFC) and fiberisation of tower sites.
Optical fibre usage in Andhra Pradesh
The target set by Andhra Pradesh for BharatNet this year is to provide internet access to 5 million rural households across 11,200 plus villages, covering 55,000 km with OFC with 11,000 points of presence ensuring last-mile connectivity. The strategy followed is to provide connectivity to public utilities in the rural setting followed by connectivity to individual semi-public utilities. Thus, at the first level, enterprise connections connect the main offices such as the zilla parishad, gram panchayat offices, grama or the village secretariats and RythuBharosaKendras (RBK). RBKs are one-stop shops for farmers, where they can digitally avail of information about the weather, fertiliser input and credit availability. RBKs are wired with good internet connectivity, to facilitate payment gateways.
At the next level are the state-connected schools, anganwadikendras, and primary health centres. This pattern can be found even in Integrated Tribal Development Agency areas in the north-eastern parts of our state such as Paderu, Rampachodavaram, Seethampeta and Parvathipuram.
Andhra Pradesh uses the most advanced model for OFC connectivity. This made it possible for the state to offer triple play services (telephone, internet and television) at a price of Rs 204 per month (about $2.70 per month). For offering television entertainment services, the state has tied up with close to 15,000 service operators down to the village level to offer entertainment at a very low cost.
Applications riding on OFC
The Andhra Pradesh Software Defined Wide Area Network (APSDWAN) offers connectivity to government offices at the state headquarters, district headquarters and mandal headquarters. Some of the applications that run on the APSDWAN are video conferencing, e-office, Gram Sachiwalya and Ward Sachiwalaya, virtual classrooms, and Spandana, which is a public grievance redressal platform that directly connects citizens to the chief minister’s office through a hierarchical network of government officials.
The state data centre operates under the SDWAN protocol connecting the state headquarters and the mandal headquarters through the district headquarters. At the district headquarters, the state is providing an average internet speed of 100 Mbps and 20 Mbps at the mandal headquarters. This is a significant achievement, considering the connectivity status, income levels and the potential to attract investments in the rural hinterland.
The national average for “fiberisation of towers” is about 34 per cent, and the state has about 42 per cent towers fiberised. This renders that the state is comprehensively aligned with the National Digital Communications Policy’s “Fibre First” initiative. Certain issues emananting from local politics, and government procedural issues existed, but the state has been ironing them out.
Calamities do create problems with fi-bre connectivity. Recently, the state was ravaged by rains, and as a result, four districts in the north-eastern parts of the state were marooned by water, and life in over 600 villages was disrupted due to water seepage and damage to telecommunication towers. As many as 18 telecommunication towers were damaged, but we were able to resurrect services within eight working days.
The state is well aware of the potential concerns with 5G, relating to cybersecurity threats, especially from Chinese vendors, and the technology itself which is immature and insufficiently tested. The 5G spectrum, situated at the band centred around 26 Gigahertz also interferes with the weather and earth observation satellites, and reports suggest impaired weather prediction performances. Several countries including the US have warned that radar altimeters of aircraft, which operate in the 4.2 to 4.4 Gigahertz range, would be affected by 5G operations. The over hype on 5G does not sit easy with public policymaking in the 5G domain. Nevertheless, the state is poised to take advantage of 5G technology as and when the concerns are addressed.