Chronicle of India's Internet

By Shreenesh Raman

India touted to be a global destination for back office processing is now suffering with major bottlenecks in Information & Communication Infrastructure. Post-Liberalisation the government started various agencies to track developments and invest in the field of Information and communication.

The Union Government initiated the National Informatics Centre (NIC) in early 80s. It led to restructuring Department of Telecom (DoT), bifurcating telecom operations and bureaucracy. MTNL was formed in late 80s to cater to the niche crowd in Delhi and Mumbai. Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL), a Govt. owned ISP was formed to offer 64Kbps (and above) leased line internet for corporate customers. The bandwidth hungry applications soon demanded more bandwidth. VSNL became a Class-A ISP and lead monopoly till early 90s.
The Government in 1995 relaxed its telecom norms and allowed private operators to handle domestic traffic with leasing bandwidth from VSNL. In 1994, the National Telecom Policy— 1994 didn’t focus much on Internet. Cable TV operators leased bandwidth from ISP and distributed internet via co-axial cables.

In 1998, the Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPAI) was formed to cartelise the sector. VSNL and private majors like Bharti laid cables across the globe to contribute the global bandwidth demands. Allowing private operators to offer internet via DSL didn’t make significance in the internet penetration due to high cost of installation and user fee.

In 1999, a VSNL home internet connection costs nearly Rs.900 for three months including a 4MB mailbox. The DoT along with BSNL and MTNL laid fibre over the length and breadth of
the country, while cross country cable is handled by VSNL. India was hit by the (.) COM revolution, companies offering mobile services started to offer internet as a Value Added Services (VAS).

The low cost of mobile phones and lowest tariff made an easy climb by the
Government to give a boost for the booming IT sector gave importance to E-Governance to agencies as they started to digitalise their operations. Convergence in the telecom sector was succeeding in snail’s pace, the government corporatized DoT and formed Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) a government undertaking unit.

Closing in the Digital Divide ‘N’ Journey to villages...

IT and ITES companies concentrated in the tier-1 slowly moved to tier-2 cities with improvement in infrastructure. Mobility and Internet is still Latin & Greek in distant villages in the remote pockets of India. So, how what is the best way to bridge the digital divide?
Providing Internet services in remote places with subsidised tariff package is not the best solution. There must be a consensus by all telecom operators to provide compulsory service in rural areas by sharing infrastructure. The government must grant funds from Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) to deploy fibre to remote regions of the country. Legal framework should be redesigned to fit these changes, moreover infrastructure sharing must be mooted to cut spending and deliver services with utmost QoS.

Fibre Vs Air Medium...?

According to a NASSCOM survey taken in early 2002, 68 town and cities constitute 92% internet users in India. So to expand beyond the towns and cities into villages, the government decided to utilise the USO funds. The government’s projection of growth anomaly in mobile was proven wrong when the penetration levels reached 73% in mid 2007 far ahead of its target time. So, the government doesn’t want to repeat its mistakes by miscalculating the growth and adoption rate.

DoT is given the duty to execute orders from Ministry of Information and Technology (MIT). Under DoT’s command National and State Fibre Authority will be commissioned to lay optic fibre and monitor traffic. National Optic Fibre Authority (NOFA) will be the nodal authority once the fibre lines are commissioned. State Optic Fibre Authority (SOFA) will be a joint-venture between state and central government, under which telecom operators sign MoU to lease bandwidth to offer services in villages. Telecom providers won’t have any burden to lay and maintain.

Laying optic fibre in hill terrains is a tough task, as there is a higher risk of landslide, earthquake, etc. It is wise to adopt Wireless RAN platform to deliver last mile connectivity in remote reaches in Himalayas. The wireless network is the best alternative, since satellite based system might escalate cost of implementation and maintenance. Going wireless might be a waste of money and precious spectrum in the vast plains of the country.

Is Air medium the best available option to connect remote places?

The recent 3G spectrum auction created buzz across the world telecom fraternity. In Indian telecom sector, spectrum is generally held by Ministry of Defence (MoD) for its bandwidth hungry transmission applications for national safety. So, the DoT’s hands are tied in the name of ‘National Security’ and thus telecom operators are facing bottlenecks in rolling out services. India’s mobile networks mostly run on GSM platform, thus using more spectrum bandwidth than CDMA.

Lighting the future
Airwaves were auctioned for Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) in 2009-10. The government allocated only three 20MHz block across India with one block reserved for state owned carriers BSNL and MTNL. It’s a wise idea to go wireless across India, since some companies already provide mobile services thereby no need to invest in tower infrastructure (Base Transmission Tower). Next, comes choice of technology standard as companies are in a big dilema and need to choose uniform technology across India to provide better roaming service. But companies must rethink their strategy when it comes to wartime and other emergency. MoD has the right to take over infrastructure excluding emergency services transmissions. Sticking with wire line for basic communications is a suitable alternative instead of investing crores of rupees in

Is bandwidth scarce hit India?

My answer is a big ‘NO’. Bandwidth is generally classified into two type’s namely internal and external bandwidth. India ISP’s are none other than the total telecom service providers who own cables laid within country and cross country.

Submarine Cable
ISP’s form alliance with industry peers to share the cost of laying undersea submarine cable. Nowadays, optic fibre cable bandwidth is zooming to unimaginable heights. Global telecom leaders like SingTel, Airtel, Verizon, British Telecom, France Telecom S.A, NTT Comm., Etisalat, Vodafone and AT&T have cables running around India’s coastline. Submarine cable landing points were established in cities like Chennai, Mumbai, Cochin to provide seamless connectivity to corporate and commercial customers.

A Huawei DWDM Switch
The bandwidth hungry applications cosume only one fifth of India's bandwidth. Of a total of 34Tbps (based on unofficial calculations) only 1.5Tbps is lit. A large chunk of local bandwidth connecting towns and cities are not utilised to its desired capacity. Other than telecom operators, govt PSU's like Railtel, Gailtel, Power Grid, NTPC, REC were given Class-A ISP licence. The PSU's laid fibre along oil and gas pipelines, railway lines and power lines. They enter into agreement with ISPs and corporates to offer Leased Line, National Long Distance Line and VPN over MPLS. For example, RailTel an Indian Railway undertaking has 36,000 KM of OFC under its kitty and planning to lay 50,000 KM. It also has STM-1 (155Mbps) and STM-16 (2.5Gbps) connectivity across all major towns and cities. It also manages DWDM network of over 10,000 KM to provide speeds from 100Mbps to a staggering 400Gbps (bandwidth capacity).

Analysing the timeline internet traffic passing through India, network equipment maker CISCO has estimated that the average traffic to reach 3Tbps. Eventually, the ISP’s and government are least ready to give a thought on the rising demand for bandwidth both internal and external demands to cover the digital divide.

So one must think about future of the internet in India...


  1. Mr. Illusionist, Good post. According to the survey of different media in India for 12+ aged ones, there are 1.05Cr people who use internet as recent as yesterday. Of this, 80.29Lac are male and 21.18L are females. Of this 6L are aged between 12-15,15L in 16-19 yrs bracket, 41.38L in 20-29 age group and 19.70L in 30-39; 11L in 40-49; and 7.65L in the age group of 50+

    There are many others whose frequency of access is once a week or once a fortnight. Out of a population base of 88 cr people of 12+ aged ones in India 85.59cr have never accessed internet. So I guess, in another four five years time, this number will surely improve.

    Good one. Keep writing.

  2. superb... u have done a good research... keep it up..

  3. Thanks for good post.Well research and this inter informative.
    leased line