The government is piloting three alternative to expedite the ambitious Digital India initiative and connecting the rural parts of the country through high speed broadband.
In a meeting held by the government's premier think-tank Niti Aayog last month, it has been decided that the pilots will be carried out in at least five panchayats each over the coming year to gauge the effectiveness of various technologies such as White Space, VSAT and WiFi before they are ready to roll out at a national level.
The meeting was chaired by Niti Aayog's CEO Amitabh Kant and was attended by representatives from the department of technology, ministry of Information and Broadcasting and department of telecom.
"We have explored various options to see how things can be implemented speedily and in a cost effective manner," a senior Niti Aayog official told ET.
The official added that idea behind the move is to fast-track the Digital India initiative and the various services under it.
While White Space that uses unused TV spectrum and has been championed by Microsoft, propagates signals in a radius of at least 10 km, VSAT uses satellites and gives out relatively lesser bandwidth. Wi-fi on the other hand can have a 100-metre range.
The need for alternative technologies has arisen because the 'backbone for Digital India' or the National Optical Fibre Network plan which is called BharatNet will be completed only by December 2018.
The BharatNet project which was launched in 2003 under the previous regime has missed several deadlines. Though it has picked steam under the current government, the first phase which will be finished by March 2017 will only connect 1,00,000 panchayats out of the total 2,50,000.
"We want to bring broadband to rural India, we can't wait for fiber to roll out everywhere," added another government official.
These pilots will be conducted in tandem the pilot of Google's Loon project which aims to beam internet connectivity through helium filled balloons. The government is in talks with Google to finalise the details.
The second official added that however for these pilots, the department will rely on government agencies such as ERNET, NIC or on educational institutes such as IITs to avoid controversies since many cellular lobbies are against the idea of giving spectrum for White Space free of cost.
During the meeting at Niti Aayog, state broadcaster Doordarshan, which is supposed to have significant free bandwidth has agreed to provide spectrum for the White Space pilot.
"The department of IT has promised that the test will not create any interference to their broadcast," added the second official.
The process for identification of the places for the pilot will begin soon and the panchayats will be chosen from among the 1,50,000 which are yet to be tendered for BharatNet. The pilots are expected to begin in the next six months.
The Niti Aayog official added that the Prime Minister had at one of the recently held Cabinet meetings' suggested that the Centre adopts the Andhra model to provide internet connectivity to rural India under its Digital India initiative.
Andhra Pradesh has followed a model in laying optic fibre cable lines over electric poles to complete the BharatNet project.
The aerial OFC has several advantages, including lower cost, speedier implementation, easy maintenance and utilisation of existing power line infrastructure.
The state has also roped in Microsoft to connect four educational institutions in Srikakulam district under a pilot project using White Space technology.
According to this official, who did not wish to be identified, the consultations are over at Niti's end and now it is up to the concerned ministries to roll-out pilot projects for checking these options.
Source : economictimes.indiatimes.com