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India: rural density to be doubled, 3G for Goa, 3G licence soon(!)

Commitment to doubling tele-density in India’s rural areas formed a recent keynote speech in India. Meanwhile, although 3G has reached Goa, India’s government has still to assign a date for the latest round of 3G licensing. That saga continues. Michael Schwartz summarises. 

Licensing for 3G services in India is still being delayed, to the extent that India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has assured investors and users alike that the auction will be held as quickly as possible. The auction - or lack of it - has been mentioned several times on our site. 

Prime Minister Singh declared he was very well aware of the importance of 3G services such as mobile-based high-speed Internet and video-conferencing. At present, the target date of 14 January is mistrusted by many commentators and investors as it is seen as unrealistic. This time, there appears to be a market-economy tint to the familiar declaration, the Prime Minister’s declaration including the words, "I am happy that the auction of spectrum for 3G and Broadband Wireless Access (WiMAX) services will be conducted very shortly. In a reform initiative, the government has decided that this spectrum will be allocated at market-determined prices rather than through administered mechanism."

The Indian Government has achieved one step forward - next year, Mobile Number Portability (users change their mobile operator but keep their old number) will come to be early in 2010.

India’s rural tele-density will be doubled in three years

The Digital Divide is still an issue of the greatest importance to India’s Prime Minister. Dr Manmohan Singh took the opportunity of a recent conference on Indian telecoms to announce his aim of doubling rural tele-density from 20% to 40% in the next three years: a programme for providing broadband connectivity to all 250,000 gram panchayats (local governments at village or small-town level in India) will be completed by 2012.

For Dr Singh, “While celebrating the growth and substantial achievements of the telecom sector in India, it is important for all of us to be conscious of the large digital divide that still exists in our country...Our rural tele-density is 20% per cent as compared to over 100% for our towns and cities. We must therefore double our rural tele-density in the next three years. It is imperative that we exploit to the fullest extent, the opportunities offered by mobile telephony for purposes of promotion of financial inclusion.”

High-speed broadband in all gram panchayats would offer long-term multiplier positive effects. It would make a tremendous difference to farmers as they could find out the prices they could obtain in nearby markets. Remote areas would gain through tele-education and tele-medicine.

3G ready for Goa from January

Next month, Goa will benefit from a whole range of mobilde technologies: video calls, instant messaging, emailing, information download, and traditional voice-based telephony.

The main company responsible is BSNL, which is putting the final touches to its roll-out timetable. Mohan Lal, General Manager, BSNL Mobile Division, Pune, sets the scene, “Almost 80% of the equipment has arrived in Goa. The installation and testing is in progress. All the equipment is being imported from France and the USA...All urban and semi-urban areas in Goa will be covered initially; new sites will be added later. Our basic survey of the state is complete and we will use the existing tower network. We’re looking at a launch in January.”

Mr Lal’s colleague Hari Narayan Jangir, Deputy General Manager, BSNL Mobile Division, Pune, has mentioned a wide range of Internet speeds, “ The minimum internet speed offered through 3G will be 2MB/s, while the maximum speed will touch 14 MB/s."

Mr Jangir continued, “We will initially test this mobile broadband technology at a speed of 2MB/s. Gradually, we will integrate High Speed Downlink Packet Access which will facilitate faster internet speeds at 14 MB/s.” If people do want to start on 3G, they will need a USIM (Universal Subscriber Identification Module) card at US$1.26. For Mr Jangir, “A USIM card has a higher memory, while existing SIM cards have some constraints. Interested BSNL users will have to apply for migration from 2G to 3G. They will be able to retain their existing phone numbers with no additional charges for the migration, except for the purchase of the USIM.”

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