Bangladesh will provide 100 Gbps of Internet bandwidth to India. Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) has planned to deploy cross-border optical fiber cable, which will ensure cheaper wholesale Internet bandwidth to the seven northeastern Indian states. The states of Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Naga Land, Manipur and Mizoram are popularly known as the “seven sisters”. India has been struggling with broadband deployment in this region being remotely located from the subsea cable lading stations (Click on the map). Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram are adjacent to Bangladesh while the rest are at closer proximity.
We posted that TRAI had said that 143 million Indians were connecting to the Internet over mobile networks. Only 15 million used fixed broadband. Facebook says it has 82 million MAUs in India. Even if assume 15 million come from the fixed side that means 67 million over mobile platforms. Buoyed by surging user base in emerging markets of India and Brazil, the social networking platform’s MAUs globally rose by 21% to 1.
Two days back a Facebook debate ensued over the newly inaugurated deep-draft Colombo South Port being described as China’s port by a friend of mine who is in politics. He had said this in an interview to a Sinhala newspaper where the embers of xenophobia are periodically fanned by various parties, but only rarely by liberal-thinking PhD economists. I was motivated to write up my side of the argument in my column in LBO.LK. Though the immediate subject was a container terminal, the issue was foreign investment.
For those who doubted our narrative that the future of Internet access in our parts is wireless, here is the proof. It’s not that fixed broadband is not growing (year-on-year is 9 percent), but that wireless is growing faster. There are 15 million fixed broadband subscribers v 143 million connecting over wireless platforms. TRAI’s quarterly performance report.
My second presentation at the SATRC policy workshop moved into contentious territory. I was preceded by Principal Advisor to TRAI, Mr Sudheer Gupta, who presented the TRAI recommendation that the new category they describe as “application services” be subject to a form of authorization at the cost of INR 15,000 and transaction costs. Sri Lanka’s official representative challenged the need for licensing, which made me happy. But this is an area where no one has all the answers and it is good that SATRC has got the discussion going. I did not cover the last section of the slides because of lack of time.
The perception is that 3G networks are not being rolled out rapidly in India. But it could be that the Indian consumer is ahead of the operators and regulators, as we saw in Thailand where smartphone sales picked up well before 3G frequencies were assigned. Global smartphone shipments jumped 47 per cent to 229.6 million in Q2 2013 from 156.5 million units in Q2 2012, according to the latest research from Strategy Analytics, with Samsung accounting for much of the growth.
Telecom operators know exactly how many smartphones are in use in their networks. Therefore, Wireless Intelligence will know. But Reuters appears to be relying on ITU estimates. This year, the number of mobile Internet users in the developing world will overtake those in the developed world for the first time – growing 27 times since 2007, compared to the developed world’s fourfold growth, according to estimates from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). “The centre of gravity in the mobile ecosystem is likely to shift from the United States and Western Europe toward Asia,” Mary Ellen Gordon, director at mobile advertiser Flurry Inc, said in an emailed interview.
We’ve been writing about spectrum sharing on and off. There is mention that sharing will be encouraged in the Indian National Telecom Policy 2012. Indications were that actions to implement the policy were underway. But it has come up against the need to raise more money from auctions. I came up against this problem in Bangladesh early this year.
In 2011, we wrote about the end of the telegram in Sri Lanka. When telecom and posts were bifurcated in Sri Lanka, telegrams went with posts, somewhat illogically. In India, they went with telecom, so they lasted a little longer. But BSNL’s failure to offer improved service and features while keeping price below costs did the telegram in nevertheless. The telegram or taar, once the bearer of urgent news, good or bad, will disappear once and for all on July 15, outpaced in the age of text messages and emails.
India’s four billion USD plan to take fiber to the Panchayat level throughout India and to allow operators to use that fiber under open-access arrangements has not drawn much attention internationally. But not that it has started we expect that to change. The National Optical Fibre Project is being implemented by a newly created entity called Bharat Broadband Networks Ltd (BBNL). The total cost of the project is around Rs 20,000 crore. At a recently held meeting of top Government officials to discuss the status of the project, it was decided that the cable supply contract would be finalised by June 20.
It appears that India’s Department of Telecom is rethinking auctions as the mechanism for assigning spectrum: After failure of two rounds of airwave auction, the Department of Telecom (DoT) is now exploring pricing methods for fixed priced allotment of spectrum, said an internal note. An ‘expanded committee’ will ascertain ‘concept, operational parameters and conditions’ for a market-related process for giving away spectrum, said the note reviewed by ET. My first reaction was that this would be contrary to the sweeping ruling given on the 2G auction by the courts, but it appears there is wiggle room: However, in September last year, the Supreme Court had said in its opinion on queries raised by the government through a Presidential Reference that auction was not the only way to allocate natural resources like spectrum. Further, maximising of revenues were secondary to serving the public good with regard to awarding allocating natural resources. Full report.
In my recent visit to Colombia to assess the ICT sector for the OECD, I found that the Office of the Controlaria (Auditor General) was playing an increasingly central role in telecom policy, second-guessing decisions by policy makers and regulators years after the fact, for example requiring a Mayor responsible for the decision by a municipally owned telco to introduce ISDN many years back to compensate the municipality out of his personal funds for the resulting losses. The broader issues of government ownership raised by this story are discussed in detail in my LBO.LK Choices column. The Indian Comptroller and Auditor General was involved in telecom regulation from the 1990s, for example claiming that TRAI under the leadership of Justice Sodhi was negligent in not optimizing government revenues through BSNL. It played a decisive role in the 2G scandal that has been dragging down the Indian telecom industry for the past 2-3 years by making an inflated assessment of the losses caused.
The demand for massive data centers close to consumers will increase rapidly as cloud services proliferate and data traffic increases. Yet, they will not emerge everywhere. Just having cheap renewables-based electricity is not enough, as is shown by Singapore and Dubai becoming attractive sites. A whole eco-system is needed. “There is major demand coming from IT-enabled service providers, online portals, e-commerce companies, stock brokerages, and insurance firms,” said Sunil Gupta, president and chief operating officer at Netmagic Solutions, a data centre company which was acquired by Japan’s NTT in January 2012.
Sri Lanka and Pakistan partially privatized their incumbent fixed telecom operators more or less at the same time competition was introduced. India, Bangladesh and Nepal did not. Bad move. The lumbering monsters could not compete. The sad state of the Indian incumbents who have been fed more subsidies than it is possible to imagine is thus described.
It takes guts to question protectionism, but I guess it’s not that difficult when you are in the Prime Minister’s Office: The Prime Minister’s Office is worried about the IT and Communication Ministry’s policy of encouraging domestic manufacturing. The PMO has sent the Ministry a note asking for comments on how the policy aims to link manufacturing requirements to national security. ‘MARKET DISTORTIONS’ “Efforts to link manufacturing with security is questionable. It will lead to distortions in the market. Security objectives can be met through audits, tests and need to be handled separately,” states the note sent by the PMO.
On the second day of the training course organized by PiRRC in Apia, Samoa, I made a presentation on the available regulatory solutions to the problem of market power associated with submarine cable landing stations. The countries covered include Hong Kong SAR, India, Fiji and Mauritius. The slide set: Gateway pricing Apr 2013.