November 17 - Mr Satya N. Gupta

Secretary General, ITU-APT Foundation of India
9:30am (UTC London) - 10:30am (Zurich, Berlin) - 15:00pm (IST India)

Theme: FRUGAL 5G – Bringing Broadband Faster to Rural Areas


As part of Digital India mission of the government to make “Broadband for All” a reality in the near future, there is a great buzz about Wi-Fi everywhere specially in urban areas wherein people are expecting free Wi-Fi access in times to come. Though there is not much talk about rural Wi-Fi. Everything on Tower (EOT) concept appears to be the solution to provide broadband access to rural masses in a cost effective, timely, affordable & sustainable manner.

For making delivery of high-speed broadband access in the hands/homes of rural people some very low cost, low power & low maintenance technical solution is required which can reduce the cost to minimum possible by making use of existing infrastructure and unlicensed spectrum which is free. Also in many villages of rural India there is acute shortage of grid power supply which is also highly unreliable. In addition, there is unavailability of suitable indoor space for installing the network equipment’s and keeping it safe and secured. Due to all the above challenges there is a perceived lack of a business case for rural broadband access and that is why not many players are talking about it. We at BLUETOWN trying to bring out an innovative concept which can lead to a sustainable business model of hand delivery of broadband access to rural.

The availability of a robust and reliable broadband connectivity is most critical for the successful implementation of some of the key social sector schemes and programmes in rural areas by the Central and State governments on e-governance, education, health, employment and financial inclusion.

The benefits of the broadband connectivity to the rural population are immense with the convergence of voice, data and video.

As the time and cost are two critical elements for the implementation, the key question is how we can rollout the broadband connectivity to the rural areas in the quickest and most cost-effective manner. The government is highly dependent on the speedy implementation of broadband connectivity for the success of its ‘marquee’ Digital India programme. The concept of “Everything on Tower” solution, enables, the creation of a public hotspots for use of the telecom service provider to enable them to provide much needed broadband access to rural masses as a business case without any perpetual subsidy. This makes use of an innovative rural access technology 5L principles of value innovation namely; Low cost, Low Power, Low Maintenance, Local Control, Local Content. It is based on the availability of the subsidised internet backhaul as a part of NOFN project of government or through PSU telco like BSNL and making use of abandoned / discarded telecom towers or some other existing structure of around 10 -15 meters’ height in rural areas.

In the absence of any possibility of needed ROI (Return on Investment) on the CAPEX, as well as restricted potential for revenue due to affordability constraint, the success of rural Broadband business will depend upon the Government’s policy and regulatory environment, investment support and incentives provided by the local governments in creating underlying infrastructure as well as making use of the existing infrastructure of operators. Also, involvement of a local entrepreneur or community under public private partnership (PPP) model with an opportunity to create a business case through Government/ Public funded backbone infrastructure is the key for sustainability of Broadband business in the rural areas. One option for this scheme can be involvement of an independent infrastructure provider, who creates the access node as “Managed Hotspot Service Provider” (MHSP).

Involving the local community/village local entrepreneur (VLE) which could be used by MHSP will require selection and basic training to a local entrepreneur in a village or a cluster of villages through schemes like “Skill India”. Government/local bodies will be required to provide majority financial support for initial setting up of the infrastructure for Village Level Entrepreneur (VLE) and help this entrepreneur to get funding from the bank/ financial institutions under the plans like “Startup India”.