Crystal Ball Gazing For Broadband

New Delhi: | Updated: Apr 24 2002, 05:30am hrs
It will be some years before the Indian masses get broadband high-speed access to the Internet at “reasonable” rates. Broadband, defined in the Indian context as always on Internet connection at speeds grea-ter than 64 kilo bits per second (kb-ps), will continue to be a premium service for the next 2-3 years years.

This was the consensus opinion among a panel discussing broadband which included Praveen Shrikhande, chief technical officer at Hathway Cable and Datacom Private Ltd; Saurav Adhikari, chief executive officer of HCL Infinet; Jagbir Singh, vice-president Technology, Bharti Telenet and Amitabh Singhal, secretary, Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPAI).

“The demand is not so high because of high cost,” Hathway’s Mr Shrikhande said. The company has about 30,000 broadband (over cab-le) subscribers as on date, half of which are in Mumbai. Broadband aspirants need to buy a set-top box that currently retails at Rs 7,000. In addition, there is a monthly fee upwards of Rs 1,000. Many households will find these costs high, though there is demand from the corporate segment, especially the small and medium enterprises.

The demand for broadband access is also a factor of the penetration of personal computers (PC) in the country. The current PC population stands at about 4 million. Only about 5 per cent of these are estimated to be on broadband.

Mr Adhikari of HCL Infinet said that the elasticity of demand (which measures the correlation between price and demand) for broadband was very high. Any reduction of costs is therefore likely to usher in a quantum jump in demand.

But what does one do with high speed Internet access through a broadband connection

“The dominant use is still Internet surfing and e-mail,” Bharti’s Jagbir Singh said, citing empirical data. The firm is looking at providing various value-added services like Tamil news to its broadband users in Tamil Nadu.

Globally, there have been different applications driving broadband growth. According to the vice-president of broadband infrastructure provider Unisphere Networks, Adam Judd, it is karaoke on demand in Taiwan and , interactive gaming in Korea, while it is online gambling in some other countries.

India’s broadband service providers will just have to experiment to discover the killer application for the country, the panelists said. The surprise success of short messaging service (SMS) on mobile phones however shows that the tastes of Indians, many times, mimic those of their counterparts around the world.