Telecommunication in Rural Development for a Sustainable Economy

Telecommunication in Rural Development for a Sustainable Economy


Dr. Narayanan Sampath
Senior Manager
Midas Communication Technologies Private Limited
No. 1, Kalyani Nagar, Kottivakkam, Thiruvanmiyur
Chennai 600 041, India
Tel : +61-44-451 2050/451 0551
Fax : +61-44-451 0555
Email : [email protected]

India is vast country with a population of about one billion. Also India is a country of unity in diversity. This could sometimes cause problems but still stays as one country at the need of the hour. When India attained its independence 55 years ago, the priorities were different then to what it is today. The country has subsequently been broken up into several states on linguistic basis. This has led to a situation of several countries within a country – similar to Europe. Like Europe, each state in India has its own language, culture, food and other idiosyncrasies. Soon after independence, it was irrigation and power and construction of dams that were considered as essential for development in free India. Although these schemes might have achieved what they were meant to, certain other priorities have cropped up as the years passed by. All the five-year plans are being geared to meet the present day requirements. At one stage, it appears that there were plans to connect all the river systems in India as some flooded during monsoon and some other stayed dry where it did not rain enough. Some how, somewhere along the line these plans fell through.

These developments being on one side, India’s concerted efforts in advancing Science and Technology never lacked any pace. It is a best known secret that India is one of the leading countries in the world in the fields of research and development. It has made advances in every direction. But the uneven demographic distribution in India makes the development obvious only in some parts that are mainly the urban areas of the country. This urbanisation process might have taken place without particular planning, as it is in the case of many cities. In spite of all the developments in Science and Technology, India’s telecommunication system was still lacking till the early to middle eighties. It was a revolution, which took place during that period which saw the emergence of Public Call Offices (PCOs) like mushrooms. These PCOs not only offered local call facility, but also enabled STD and ISD calls. This enabled the ordinary public use this facility at a small cost. While owning a telephone was a luxurious unaffordable item then, telecommunication facility was available for a common man (after the revolution) only through these PCOs.

Due to the continuous research and development in India, the Country’s progress has been a matter of pride and satisfaction, even though there could have been some shortcomings in some other areas of development. If people in some parts of the Country are left without clean drinking water or food or proper shelter, it is not due to lack of resources but due to lack of proper planning and allowing the urban areas grow faster than they should. In spite of this, India is a very strong democracy and a leading example to the neighbours in the region and in fact to the entire Asian civilisation and the rest of the world. India is also blessed with a huge human resource and if these resources are utilised efficiently, India’s achievement will be unparalleled in the history of human race.

India’s topographic maps were made during the British rule by Survey of India. These maps displayed all features necessary for identification and location of sites for various purposes. Subsequently, these maps were continuously updated and released as two categories viz. unrestricted and restricted. . These maps were last updated and re-released in the mid-sixties and early-seventies. The restricted maps are not available for the private industry, which is contributing its bit towards progress and development of the Country. The modern techniques like the Remote Sensing (RS), the Geographical Information System (GIS) and the Global Positioning System (GPS) offer a great hope for the research and development aspects of the industry. But, for the preliminary survey work and location, the topographic maps are essential, even though these maps might be out of date. Hence the combination of the topographic maps and the GIS images would be the ideal tool in selecting the sites for telecommunication installation(s). The use of RS, GIS and the GPS is getting more and more popular although GIS is still a growing technology.Discussion:
It is about time people started thinking about the rural development more seriously. There are a lot of schemes like the Prime Minister’s Clean Drinking Water Plan, the Prime Minister’s Transportation Plan etc. The Department of Telecommunication has privatised its services so that the private industry can provide telecommunication facility to rural areas faster than a government body can do. The government schemes are being advertised heavily on the television stations; but again how much of these are implemented is something not clear yet. With the red tape and the bureaucracy in place in the government departments, it is difficult to guess when these schemes would be implemented, if and when they take off. With these schemes being available for rural development it is imperative that the topographic maps produced by the Survey of India be used to identify the potential areas (for development). These areas should be marked on these maps and a plan to create satellite towns or the regional centres should be worked out. Some of the industries should be shifted to these satellite towns or regional centres that will help create the required infrastructure. Although the topographic maps were reproduced during mid-60s and early-70s, they would still be essential tools for starting the process of identification. The Geographical Information System (GIS) would provide the latest information on the present features on the land. This data can be used as supplementary information for locating the more recent features. Certain initiatives have been taken by some private agencies like the Midas Communication Technologies in the field of Telecommunication and they are highlighted in the subsequent paragraphs.

A few alumni of the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IIT, M) founded Midas in April 1994. Midas’ mission was mainly to provide a Technology that will be cost effective voice and Internet access to as many villages as possible. The technology is known as corDECT Wireless in Local Loop (WLL) system. IIT, M also incubated n-Logue Communications, an Internet Service Providing Company. This company has acquired license to provide Internet access to Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, initially and extending the same service on all India basis. n-Logue is deploying Midas’ WLL Technology to provide this service at Nellikuppam area.

What is corDECT?
The corDECT wireless in Local Loop (WLL) system consists of a DECT Interface Unit (DIU or the Wireless Subscriber’s Exchange), a Compact Base Station (CBS), and a Wall Set (WS or the Subscriber’s Terminal). The DIU performs system control and does the interfacing to telecom network. In other words the DIU acts as a mini exchange. The Compact Base Station or simply the Base Station offers a wireless access in the area on twelve simultaneous channels. A CBS can provide communication for a distance of 10 kilometres in a line of sight situation. The distance can be increased by another 25 kilometres by introducing a Relay Base Station (RBS). The Wall set or the subscriber’s terminal is a fixed wireless terminal connected to any standard telephone, modem or a FAX machine. The Wall Set-Internet Protocol (WS-IP) provides the simultaneous voice and the Internet data facility to the subscriber(s). Also included with the package is Network Management System (NMS) software and is used to manage 30 DIUs and their subscribers. The NMS performs operation and maintenance (O & M) functions for all the DIUs and the subscribers connected to them.

CorDECT Wireless in Local Loop Technology is a versatile system of communication that can offer connectivity to the entire India at a very low cost and maintenance. No digging for copper wire laying will be necessary. Also, it is only system in the world, which can offer simultaneous voice and Internet data. A composite picture of the system is shown in plate1. Plate 2 shows the Bharath Sanchar Nigham Limited (BSNL) installations in India. Also, the Mahanagar Telecom Nigham limited (MTNL) is getting 35,000 lines between Mumbai and New Delhi. Recently, Midas has signed a deal with Reliance Telecom for deploying 1.5 million lines in 1,450 sites throughout the Country.

Plate 1

Plate 2

Telecommunication in Rural Development for a Sustainable Economy

CorDECT WLL technology has already been deployed in some sites in India and overseas as shown in Plate 3. The advantages of deploying this system have been discussed in the following case studies.

Case Study 1:
Nellikuppam is a small country town in the Cuddalore district of Tamil Nadu. The EID Parry and Company managed by the Murugappa Group are controlling the sugarcane and other allied produces in the area. n-Logue Communications has helped deploy corDECT WLL system in the Nellikuppam area to benefit the sugarcane farmers. Several kiosks have been located in the homes of several farmers, who are literate enough to understand and operate the system, after sufficient training. The kiosks will have a PC, power backup and in some instances a printer also. Between 30 and 50 farmers register with one of the kiosks depending on their location and get to know the prices of their produce including sugarcane at the click of the mouse. The farmers also find out about other information like the weather, other market position etc. The most impressive thing about this facility is that the information is provided in the local language, Tamil in this case. These centres also provide opportunities for the farmers to browse and educate themselves in various other fronts. It was expected that this area would have more than 500 subscribers in rural Cuddalore district by the end of 2001 and expected to grow to 800-1000 in the next couple of years. This will be a first in terms of rural teledensity in rural India and a breakthrough in terms of rural Internet penetration.

Case Study 2:
Gyandoot is a community-owned rural Internet project. This has the active involvement of the district administration and zilla parishad of Dhar district, Madhya Pradesh. This is a self-sustainable project as well. This community has established kiosks or information centres. The centres are equipped with a PC, printer and a backup UPS and are managed by the kiosk operators. The purpose of this project is to provide commercial Internet and voice connectivity in the rural areas of Dhar district, Madhya Pradesh. Using this, the State Government put their procedural forms and the other utility applications on the system so that the rural people can communicate with the government through the Net. This has also facilitated the intra-village communication. Due to some limitations this system had, n-Logue Communications offered corDECT WLL system through these kiosks offering Interconnections to all the villages in the Dhar district.

Gyan Community has taken up e-governance in a big way and made it possible for the villagers to register for applications and public grievance redressal online along with rural e-mail facilities. They can also access land record information, market price for their products and participate in the village auctions. The provision of sustainable and economically viable telephone and Internet communication will enable all round development of this rural area for economic stability of the local people.

Case History 3:
Midas Communication and n-Logue Communications in association with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the USA started a prestigious SARI (Sustainable Access in Rural India) joint Project. It was proposed to undertake deployment of telephones and Internet in villages of Madurai district of Tamil Nadu, India. The SARI project seeks to show that viable market exists for information and communication in the rural areas of Tamil Nadu. It is proposed to connect 1000 villages and demonstrate that rural access can be sustainable.

SARI has chosen corDECT WLL system and on 31st October and 1st November 2001 a demonstration was held for the launch of e-governance services and it was a successful launch. Again, the interesting part of all this connectivity was that it was in the local language i.e. Tamil. All these programs are aimed at creating a strong rural community and thus a strong India.

Case Study 4:
The deployment suiting the rural environment in India was extended to the other parts of the world. Paragominas in Brazil, South America was chosen for the WLL system installation on commercial basis due to its superiority and easy installation. This project took off against the big competitors due to its wireless operation. Also, this is the only system, which offers simultaneous Voice, and Internet data and this impressed the Brazilians.

Telecommunication in Rural Development for a Sustainable Economy

Overseas Sites:
The other overseas deployment of corDECT is in Egypt, South Africa, Madagascar, Kenya, Fiji, Iran, Nigeria, Tunisia, San Diego (USA) and Angola.

Disaster Management:
When a disastrous earthquake occurred in Bhuj, Gujarat State on 26 January 2001, corDECT was deployed to restore communication so as to help the quake victims.

Conclusions & Recommendations:
India’s statistics in telecommunication connectivity is getting better all the time. There are several other schemes going round the Country towards general upliftment. As mentioned elsewhere in this paper, development and growth has been taking place only around the metropolitan towns. Further improvements in the fields of education, hospitals, transportation and housing seem to be too slow in the rural towns of India. For any Country, particularly one like India, simultaneous growth of rural and urban areas is essential for uniform development to maintain sustained economy. As metros get crowded and saturated, smaller towns show increased potential for growth and development. This is what is happening precisely in India. Hence it is recommended that regional centres be established in these smaller and rural towns where some of the industries can be located. Also, certain relevant government departments, both State and Central, may also be located so that growth and development can be liaised and monitored simultaneously. Departments like the Cottage Industries, Housing, Education, Rural Development, Transport and Communication may initially be considered for relocation. The uniform development of all the areas – rural and urban alike will help a balanced economic growth of the Country. India is placed in such a strategic position to enable a strong growth that would aid the growth of the regional neighbouring Countries. For the theme of the conference, “let us grow together”, it is essential to have a strong South and South East Asia by transferring technology, technical know-how and the expertise. For example, India is strong in software, which can be shared around and another Country, which is stronger in another field can share that etc. That way the entire Asian region can grow together. In order to achieve this it is further recommended that a network of working groups in RS, GIS, GPS and Telecommunications from all the regions be set up. These groups should meet at regular intervals and exchange views and arrange for technology transfer as and when required. It is important to note that corDECT will facilitate a fast e-governance administration which is also essential for healthy and sustained economic growth. The advantage of e-governance has already been highlighted in the cast studies section of this paper.

Modern techniques like the RS, GIS and the GPS are certainly very useful technologies available for the growth and development of a Country. But, without telecommunication, the growth and development circuit doesn’t close and remains an open circuit. In order to close the circuit, a telecommunication network – corDECT designed and developed by Midas Communication Technologies and the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IIT, M) will be the most suited system as it is inexpensive, easy to install and maintain. Above all it is the only system in the world, which offers simultaneous voice and Internet data.

Thus the information gathered by the RS, GIS and the GPS will be able to flow through the Wall Set (WS) i.e. subscriber’s unit to enhance the growth of the region substantially.

Thus let us communicate and grow together i.e. Grow and let us all grow together philosophy.

The author feels indebted to the organisers of Map Asia 2002 Conference for accepting his paper for presentation. Also, he is grateful to the Director of Midas Communication for his encouragement to write this paper. The author also wishes to acknowledge the help of his colleague, Mr. N. Srinivasan for going through the paper critically and making some useful suggestions. During the course of writing this paper several of his (author’s) previous papers and the Net were referred to and this is gratefully acknowledged here.