VSNL plans to take Internet to rural areas

Our Bureau

MUMBAI, Feb. 8

VIDESH Sanchar Nigam Ltd (VSNL) is exploring the possibility of taking the Internet to rural areas using a technology that features a physical link for connecting to the ISP but permits direct reception of return signals from a satellite.

Customers would require a satellite dish receiver for getting the incoming signals. However, since the dish apparatus is meant only for reception of incoming signals, equipment cost involved is not high.

Mr. Amitabh Kumar, Director, VSNL, said that the company was in talks with various players for providing this service. He added that one outcome of such a facility could be further reduction in Internet access rates. The dish receiver can work as a shared facility for a group of Internet users, if needed. VSNL had negotiated with a company called Zaknet for providing this service.

Mr. Kumar was speaking at a seminar on `Role of Cable TV and Interactive TV in Internet Services', organised by FICCI, on Tuesday.

Dr. N. Seshagiri, former Director-General, National Informatics Centre (NIC), said that last week, the Cabinet gave in-principle approval for a Rs. 1,000-crore investment by the Department of Telecom (DoT) in Wavelength Division Multiplexing (WDM) technology over 20,000 route km, with initial capacity of 3-10 Gbps and provision for 100 Gbps. Part of the Government's `Sankhyavahini' project, this would go towards providing a second Internet backbone for the country.

A recurrent suggestion at the seminar was that official regulation in the sector should take cognisance of convergence.

Currently, even as telephony is regulated by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and cable TV by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, both telephone lines and cables are capable of carrying Internet content to a PC or TV. What is required, according to many, is a single authority to oversee information traffic irrespective of the medium used.

Videocon International Ltd (VIL) has made an investment of Rs. 50 crores in the manufacture of Internet appliances and is due to launch them in the Indian market in the early part of the next fiscal.

The company has tied up with a Silicon Valley-based software company for the technology to manufacture Internet appliances including colour televisions (CTVs), Mr. V.N. Dhoot, Managing Director, VIL, said, but declined to name the technology provider.

Mr. Dhoot said that Internet televisions would cost Rs. 2,000-3,000 higher than ordinary televisions. The televisions will be adapted with add-on software to enable Internet access by the consumer.

The CTV industry has targeted a sales figure of five million television sets in the current fiscal. According to Mr. Dhoot, demand for Internet televisions is expected to be substantial, accounting for at least 25 per cent of the total CTV demand in India.

Mr. Shailendra Kumar Gupta, Chairman and Managing Director, VSNL, said that Internet's reach through customer premise equipment would see an explosion in its usage. ``There is a lot of scope in this area as there are one crore personal computers, 2.5 crore telephone lines and five crore televisions.''

According to him, Internet is set to go through a revolutionary change once cable television modems and Internet televisions become commercially available.

``The real future of Internet is television. Therefore, there has to be a close co-operation between Internet service providers (ISPs), TV manufacturers and cable operators.''

However, Dr. Seshagiri has cautioned that cable operators investing in Internet access provision for customers should stay prepared for the next level of Internet usage (as opened up by WDM technology), which would require additional expense on equipment at their end.

While `Internet-2' is inevitable and not far off in India, Dr. Seshagiri said that despite additional cost to cable TV operators, the projected returns are several times higher and make transition attractive.

Mr. N. Parameshwaran, Deputy Director General (LR), Department of Telecommunications, said that Internet service providers (ISPs) are free to negotiate with foreign satellites and set up gateways with the sole condition that they follow international regulations.

He added that eight private companies have already been given permission to set up gateways. So far, 225 companies have taken ISP licences.
Source : The Business Line. February 9, 2000