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25,000 villages to be covered by BSNL broadband by July news

I have been looking at the growth and the hype of the telecom sector over the past few years. This was partly out of interest and partly to kill my spare time. Shifting from a small city in Punjab to what is arguably the “happening city” of North India, Mohali, there is a sea change in the past 5 years.

The state owned Telecom Company Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) has been much reviled and abused for its lack of customer focus. However, at last faced with shrinking customer base and revenues, there has been a virtual end to it’s monopoly with the nimble footed players stepping on the giant dinosaur. However, far from becoming extinct it is fighting back. Albeit in measured terms.

BSNL launched its broadband services recently in Chandigarh, the first city to get the broadband in Punjab. Fact is that BSNL has been able to retain it’s customers after facing disconnections on a large scale. Yet, it remains the cheapest mode of communication at present. It is able to leverage its vast network for doing so; there is added Government security blanket for budgetary dole out in case it gets in the red.

However, the reality on the ground is far away from the hype. Mobile penetration remains dismal at 3% in North India, marginally better than South counterparts. While this may reflect huge potential, yet the lack of clear regulatory regime is detrimental to the growth of this crucial sector.

Majority of Indians are techno phobic. It would be asinine to assume that Indians are embracing the broadband connectivity with open arms. This may be blamed on the poor PC penetration; the fact remains that in future, content would determine the spread of broadband. Reliance has realized this early on and went all out to ensure the same. One gets to see their Web Worlds, which serve as coffee retail outlets, gaming zones and possibly in the near future even Wireless Internet. This is the kind of focus that needs to be there to ensure customer loyalty.

There is only one way out. Advertisements. The demand for the same has to be created which would ride on the boom in the sales of electronics. For majority of Indians, buying a computer is a big family decision. This is reflected in the advertisements that Intel so beautifully exploits; it shows a young girl becoming a doctor by working on an Intel platform! I really wish that long hours in front of my AMD could make me a specialist! Well, if we really believe the ads to be true, miracle could happen soon.

The only other way out is to mate the telephone line with the idiot box. Now that one thing is in sufficient numbers. Hence, the thrust of Reliance to make this happen with the planned TiVO like technology in India. I am sure they are going to make a huge outcry about the same, once the current fiasco between the brothers ends.

It is extremely difficult to rely on statistics in India; much of the “credible” information is gleaned from outside agencies. For example, the customer base in “millions” with “millions” more presumed to be waiting in the wings to join the networks. The fact is that once the handset prices come to more realistic levels and the interconnect charges are reduced, that would herald the growth in mobile telephony to more realistic levels. This would spur on the need for data as the mobile phones become and integral part of our lives. Internet does have the potential to revolutionize our lives; this would only happen if the last mile access were taken care of. BSNL is a sleeping giant; once roused it would be difficult to put down. Wait and watch.

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