Quoting Mr. Rahul Sharma, President TEMA, and, Business Head, Sterile Optical Technologies Ltd, BSNL
Communication – the Human DNA
The importance of open, accessible, and relevant communications for fostering National development, Social fulfillment and human dignity, is undeniable. The more communicated a society is, the more opportunities it will generate. Let us face it. The essence of communication is in the very DNA of each and every person on this earth viz. to communicate with each other without going into frivolous parameters decided by the Society. There were several initial ways of communications.
World Supports Rural Economy
More than 2.5 Bn. people (about 40 percent of the world’s population) live in the rural and remote areas of developing countries where access to telecommunications is still very limited. Entire world, ITU, All Governments, UN give high priority to communications for rural and remote areas. Valletta Action Plan (1998), Istanbul Action Plan (2002), WSIS Plan of Action (2003) all have confirmed the need to promote basic telecommunication, broadcasting and the Internet as tools for development in rural and remote areas.
So Then why still rural communication success is evading us- Attempt to demystify it
Tremendous growth of teledensity in urban areas, thanks to mobile technology, which has further widened the digital gap between rural and urban areas
In initial stages Communications was taken an essential need for citizens and duty of Govt. to provide it.Govt. invested heavily and started providing fixed line phones, wireless communication technology for defense, as monopoly, without any intention of profit rather as a service for its people. Getting a phone was always a matter of pride world over.Somewhere down the line mobile technology started to be used for civil services as well.Private sector saw profit and started lobbying for privatization.Govt. after Govt. started opening up.Tremendous success achieved by private sector in increasing the reach and subscriber base.
Realization started that rural communication is not speeding up. Ditto for broadband. So world looked back to Govt. for growth in broadband.For broadband, Govt. after Govt. started announcing plans for investment and laying Optical fiber and increasing use of e services in Government.Big investments by Govt. for rural Communications are still awaited.Every body in world looking for magic turn for rural communications.
Aims of Rural Communications
- To put rural people in a position to have the necessary information for informed decision-making and the relevant skills to improve their livelihoods.
- To have a close-knit family by connecting people across developed and developing parts of the world.
- People’s participation and community mobilization
- Confidence building
- Raising awareness
- Sharing knowledge
- Changing attitudes, behaviours and
- Lifestyles (e.g., female foeticide, rapes, etc)
- Foster decision-making
Problems of Rural Community as such:
- Spread and Diversity- the large number of consumers scattered across the Country with diverse geography, demography etc.
- Low population density large distances
- Hard physical terrain not easy to access
- Low per capital income leading to low ARPU
- Low literacy Levels- Language and physical communication barriers
- Poor Infrastructure Facilities- lack of roads, telecom facilities, postal services, TV, prints media etc.
Rural communications face challenges driven by both technological and economic considerations.
- Backhaul connectivity
- Erratic or lack of power supply, where the equipments are Largely power hungry.
- Very expensive to build for smaller capacity.
- Requires skilled manpower to install commission and maintain.
- Designed and optimized for high – ARPU high density user base.
- With High Capex and Opex affecting the business competitiveness
Technologies are being created by scientists, engineers, researchers largely with passion for being the ”most advanced” , “ for the first time”, “Fastest” rather than what is needed. The initial model was need and then invention or solution. Now first invention and then marketing needs.At times new technology announced may be because we have failed to achieve what we promised in last technology.It is not that what power, infra is available that will lead to technology…it is the reverse technology demands so and so power and infra.Compulsion of researchers to see world as one market and make technologies that can make best money in shortest possible time frame.So question is does technologies suit for rural communications? What about like MARR, Cor dect?
- Who makes the standards?
- Largely the technology inventors, taking into account what they have made.
- Result is standards largely dominated for urban areas and elite people.
- We have seen apple I phone, ipad, 4G, 5G…never heard of minus 1G for rural areas or a 5 USD handset for rural areas.
- Compliments to GIFSI and ITU, who have been doing great job for rural standards.
- So question is what else is needed for specific standards for rural areas across the globe?
Thanks to global market,. we see
- limited equipment suppliers across globe
- Manufacturers depend upon volumes for cost optimization, which rural communication evades
- Difficulties in providing after sale service, maintenance to large scattered rural areas across globe with highly qualified and talented engineers and technicians.
- Each and every company inn globe swear for rural communications’ and vigorous Research & Development and innovations.
- So question is do we need new strategies by global manufacturers or is there need for localized manufacturers with support from global companies ?
Thanks to mergers and acquisitions, we see few service providers for fixed line and mobile.They need to invest heavily in infrastructure, licenses, regulatory compliances. Service providers face brunt of customers expectations for the hypes created by Technology providers.Service providers answerable to their shareholders have to be necessarily look for profits.Unfortunately rural Communications is comparatively seen as nonviable.So first question is if rural communication is non viable, why not to drop it all together?And second question is if there is need for a separate class of operators dedicated for rural areas?
Multi Government fundings
Several Schemes, funds, incentives by
- several agencies for rural areas development
- ITU, UN does a lot
- Almost every Country has USO for telecom
- Departments of rural development, health, roads, Panchayts, employment generation, electricity, education, drinking water, housing, alternate energy, and so on have several rural development plans, incentives and funds
- A Big Question should Govt. ( and all its departments) take telecom, mobile, spectrum for big moneys or for development?
- Question is if these schemes need to be coordinated in a effective way for sustained growth?
Government’s assistance in Telecom Sector
- In India the assistance under USO is limited to service operators.
- In USA when President Obama announced plans or broadband, the assistance was extended to department of rural and agriculture development.
- So question is if there is need for extending assistance under USO and other schemes to manufacturers, technology providers, local bodies for rural communications?
Major policy stakeholders
- Telecom Operators, Equipment Suppliers, Technology providers
- Ministries – design and implement communication policies (e.g., Communication, Infrastructure, Rural Development, Food and Agriculture, Science and Education)
- Media outlets – TV, radio, print, internet, either private, public or from the civil society;
- Representatives of farmers’ or rural peoples’ organisations – to collect and formulate the
- communication needs of their clients;
- Development organisations for policy advice and harmonisation of development interventions.
Any “invention” is not a one time thing rather its a tool that needs to constantly evolve time and again to cater different ad-hoc tastes of people and even a “re-invention” to change how we communicate and how we think. With technology, we ride high on efficiencies and usability it brings along with it, less concerned about its penetration in the society and its adoption demographics.
So what is Task?
The task is not just an issue of Resources and Technologies, nor of hardware and software. It is also a matter of wise priorities, good policies, intelligent leadership, transparent decision, and population involvement.
Thoughts are endless, Ideas are endless, Talks are endless!! Lets us start action .