TECH TALK: Mass Market Internet: The Access Network
Today, in India, it costs Rs 24 (USD 0.50) per hour to be connected to the Net – this money goes to the local telephone company. This is a bottleneck for growth and usage of the Internet. Are there alternative networks to bypass this? Options: Paging, Cellular, Cable, Fibre, WLL.
Paging is the one that is the most intriguing. Paging networks have not done as well in India, but they do exist in 30+ cities. These one-way networks will need to be upgraded to two-way networks. In Shanghai, GWcom offers stock quotes and trading on a custom device over a paging network. Paging networks offer narrowband connectivity, but that is what is needed for the mass market to begin with.
Cellular (GSM) networks are circuit-switched, and as such can get quite expensive for connectivity. In India, costs vary from Re 1 to Rs 4 per minute for connectivity to the cellular network. The opportunity for this is in the future, with the packet-switched GPRS networks, which are expected to be rolled out in the next 6-12 months in major metros.
The current cable network is not two-way. It can be attractive because this also gives an always-on connectivity to the access devices. Significant investments need to go in to make it two-way.
Reliance is building out a 115-city optical fibre network, Spectranet has laid a fibre ring in Delhi. IIT-Madras’ Prof. Ashok Jhunjhunwalla has a CorDECT solution which also could be cost-effective to provide a Wireless Local Loop (last-mile solution).
An interesting alternative would be to perhaps use the emerging 802.11b (wireless Ethernet) protocol to create a relay network, by linking together neighbourhood points of presence (post offices, railway stations, petrol pumps, banks). A Big, People’s Network in every city, perhaps?!
What is clear is that India needs cheaper, easy-to-rollout mass market network. The question is which of these solutions can address the needs for today. Perhaps the answer is still the humble telephone line, and the doing away of the connect charges for Internet time.
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