Anupam Shrivastava, chairman and managing director, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL)

Indian telecom users are showing a significant appetite for broadband services. While urban India is riding on the 4G wave, its rural counterpart too is keen on experiencing high speed data services. In such a scenario, the deployment of the right set of access technologies for delivering broadband becomes crucial. Also, high speed services demand robust backhaul support. Given the operational and cost constraints, it is not possible to have a ubiquitous optical fibre spread. Thus, it is important for the government and the industry to explore new ways of enhancing the broadband reach. E-band millimetre wave has the ability to transmit 1-2 Gbps of data traffic, offering an almost fibre-like capacity while retaining the wireless advantage. Anupam Shrivastava, chairman and managing director, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), talks about India’s evolving broadband ecosystem, the key access technologies, backhaul requirements, and the role and scope of E-band in improving broadband penetration…

What is the status of broadband in India and what are its future prospects? 

As per the latest information, around 400 million Indians are using the internet through various means. Data is the future of the telecom industry as operators migrate from 2G to 3G, 3G to 4G, and 4G to 5G. We have also seen that data consum­ption per customer is increasing exponentially. BSNL is fully aware of this trend and we are preparing ourselves to offer data-oriented services to consumers. BSNL has strengthened its data and core network, and has deployed around 5,000 Wi-Fi hotspots for offloading mobile data. We are also modernising our legacy public switch­ed telephone network switches to IP multim­edia subsystem-based next-generation network switches, and have deployed six internet data centres as well as one cloud centre.

What are the appropriate access technologies to meet the broadband needs of the Indian market? Given the current scenario of low fibre penetration, what are the alternatives for backhaul networks for telecom carriers? 

One solution will not appropriately fulfil the data needs of all telecom users. We have seen urban users migrating from 64 kbps to 2 Mbps over a period of four to five years. However, at present, only the rural population can be satisfied with a data speed of up to 2 Mbps. We should be ready to deliver up to 10 Mbps speeds to urban users.

Wireless and wireline technologies are required to fulfil the high speed data needs. Higher bandwidth can be delivered using fibre-to-the-home in wireline, and 4G and 5G in the wireless space. Further, ADSL2+ and VDSL in the wireline space, and 2G and 3G in wireless can be useful for semi-urban and rural areas. For covering hilly areas and islands, radio links (mini links) and satellite links may be used to provide telecom facilities. BSNL has got its MPLS backbone ready to deliver fault-free, low latency and very high-speed services to broadband users.

What steps are being taken by the government to facilitate an increase in the backhaul bandwidth needs of the country, considering that Digital India will create exponential bandwidth demand beyond urban clusters?

The government has initiated various projects such as BharatNet and the defence project (Network for Spectrum) to take fibre to the last mile and deliver very high speed broadband through a reliable backbone to both urban and rural consumers. BSNL has undertaken the augmentation of its broadband network from 1G to 10G. Further, the capacity of the resilient packet ring network using the MPLS-transport profile-based next-generation packet aggregation network technology is being upgraded. An estimated Rs 1 trillion has been earmarked for these projects. Both the projects have progressed significantly and several village panchayats have already been lighted up.

What role can E-band-based backhaul networks play in delivering a good quality broadband experience?

E-band can provide gigabit Ethernet (1 Gbps) data. E-band equipment will have a range of about 1 km. This technology is suitable for connecting small cells in urban areas where the installation of fibre is difficult. Considering all these factors, E-band technology seems to be very favourable for coping with high data demand in all areas worldwide. Further, it may be noted that BSNL has not deployed E-band radio systems.

E-band networks are matured carrier-grade backhaul networks around the globe and are being used by carriers for providing ultra broadband. Do you think the release of this spectrum in India will create capacity in backhaul networks?

Yes, the release of this spectrum in India will create capacity in the backhaul network for the long term evolution technology network, where small cells will be deployed.