By Aglaia Staff

As per the 2013 edition of the State of Broadband report released recently, there are now more than 70 countries where over 50% of the population is online. The report emphasises that broadband internet has become a key tool for social and economic development, and points out an important caveat that 90% of the people in the world’s 49 least developed countries remain totally unconnected.

300px India Internet Segments Indias Broadband Dream: Making It A Reality

The Indian government set itself a target of 160 million broadband users by the year 2017 and 600 million by 2020. A quick look at the recent performance indicators published by Trai indicates the following: wire-line broadband subscription stands at a paltry 15 million with a maximum in Maharashtra at about 2.5 million; of these 15 million, 85% are provided through the digital subscriber loop (DSL) technology deployed by the fixed line service providers; wireless internet subscriptions has reached an astonishingly high number of 143 million with a maximum of about 14 million in UP.

What is interesting is that while the top 10 states in wire-line broadband subscription accounted for about 80% of the total wire-line broadband in the country, the same set accounts for only 65% of mobile internet subscriptions. The above statistics indicate that mobile internet access is a possible substitute for wire-line broadband service. Going by the existing definition of 256 Kbps downlink speed, most of the mobile internet subscribers that use 3G services might qualify to be broadband subscribers. So, we seem to have almost reached the target set for next year, now itself!

300px Vertical vs horizontal approach Indias Broadband Dream: Making It A Reality

Visit English: Vertical versus Horizontal approach to overcome barriers to mass usage of Mobile Internet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What is the problem then?

Though NTP 2012 has a clause for the grand revision of the definition of broadband from 256 Kbps to 512 Kbps to 2 Mbps by 2015 and thereafter to 100 Mbps, the mobile internet access still crawls. Though Trai is yet to come up with detailed metrics for measurement of quality of service for data and internet services over mobile, the response time and call disconnects do not make it worth browsing content-heavy websites on our mobiles—unless of course we do not have a wire-line broadband service at home, which seems to be

the case especially for those who live in suburban areas and less dense locations.

On the other hand, countries are marching ahead with improving broadband penetration levels, which research indicates has a positive correlation with economic development. While most of the European countries have mandated 100 Mbps broadband connections to homes, companies such as Google are experimenting with providing fibre-to-home with a speed of 1 Gbps in the US!

Amongst the OECD countries, Japan and Korea lead the pack with over 60% of the wire-line broadband deployed over optic fibre cables. However, despite opening up basic telecom services with no cap on the number of operators, the wire-line connectivity has not picked up in our country.

Is there any solution in sight?

Options for improving broadband penetration

First is the unbundling of the local loop by the incumbents about which Trai released its recommendations way back in April 2004 that will allow internet service providers and cable companies to lease the last mile/bandwidth of the incumbents to provide broadband access. Though unbundling has been touted as unsuccessful until recently, the regulators are using this policy to improve competition in an otherwise natural monopolistic market.

300px Ch3e3d Indias Broadband Dream: Making It A Reality

Visit English: Availability of 4 Mbps-Capable Broadband Networks in the United States by County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Between 2005 and 2013, the number of unbundled lines in the UK has multiplied 70 times to about 9 million copper lines offering more than 24 Mbps. The competition in wire-line broadband has significantly increased leading to drop in prices by about 50% during this period.

With more than 90% of the 35-million-odd fixed lines being owned by the government operators (BSNL and MTNL), it is time that the government mandates unbundling to unlock value of these assets much like the above example to improve broadband penetration in the country.

Second, given the fragmented and minimal spectrum allocations to mobile operators, we can only dream of good broadband connectivity on our mobiles. Hence, release of more spectrum suitable for 3G and higher technologies is warranted.

 Indias Broadband Dream: Making It A Reality
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