'The pandemic led to digital transformation of many companies and sectors as operations moved online rapidly and wholly. '
2020 and 2021 saw the rise in work/study from home solutions and options which significantly shot up the demand of wired broadband owing to the increase in data consumption and need for consistent high bit rate internet. Internet Exchange Infrastructure which will play a critical role in overhauling India’s interconnection system. To elaborate further on this, Financial Express Online got Raunak Maheshwari, Director- Extreme Labs in conversation about everything on the internet and the upcoming trends in edu-tech. Excerpts:
Many things have changed since the lockdown, what according to you, the next set of change can be witnessed in the education sector?
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The pandemic led to digital transformation of many companies and sectors as operations moved online rapidly and wholly. The traffic increased by multi-folds and this switch led to a more internet led interface which also significantly helped set base for the adoption and implementation of ed-tech in the country.
2020 acted as a year that helped put the idea of ed-tech on the map. Schools, universities and educational institutions are now all online, working towards programming/launching dedicated learning platforms that are user friendly in nature. The key is to reach remote parts of the country and ensure continuity. The sudden but timely amalgamation of education and technology, has created an opportunity for people in the remote and rural parts of the country to now have access to quality education without any infrastructural led set-back, thus getting one step closer to reducing the digital divide between urban and rural & semi-rural areas.
Though EdTech platforms like Byju’s, UpGrad and UnAcademy have been operational for quite a few years, in 2020 people realised that it can act like an avenue that enables children / advanced learners to easily access quality education that will aid them in their chosen careers. I believe that EdTech offers a solution that also acts as an opportunity for the students across the country.
Why and How do you think that the idea of ed-tech will help schools in tier ii/tier iii and rural parts of the country?
Residing from the popular educational hub of the country, Kota, I strongly feel that wiring education and technology can drastically improve the way we are teaching students and what students are retaining. It is a universal fact that short videos are now the tool that easily catches someone’s eye then why not try and implement the same in educational institutions.
Another concerning aspect that the ed-tech resolves is that many tieriii and tier iv cities lack access to quality teaching due to lack of passionate teachers, which lead to lack of strong fundamental concepts in children. For times like these, ed-tech as a sector provides an opportunity to bridge these ever-growing gaps. Not just providing a platform to offer education from trained teachers, there are many start-ups that are also working round-the-clock to float online education libraries in vernacular languages to further amplify the movement of ed-tech.
Since steady speed and affordable options of the internet are not available throughout the country, what are the steps that need to be undertaken to reform that aspect?
We are slowly inching towards becoming a more digitized country but it is a distant dream due to unavailability of faster and more affordable internet throughout the country. Many businesses and educational institutes can continue running via the internet if a more structured set-up is available throughout the county.
Though the Government is actively working on accomplishing the digitising goals, fiber broadband is playing a major role in accomplishing these goals. Fiber is as affordable as conventional broadband set-ups but is much easier and faster to roll out and maintain. ISPs are also leveraging the expertise of local-cable operators who already have a wired infrastructure, thus contributing towards the Digital India initiative.
In addition to the set up of fiber broadband, the introduction and speedy adoption of Internet eXchange Points will also play a pivotal role in reforming the way India interconnects. At Extreme IX, India’s leading Internet eXchange Point, we are trying to create a legacy and contribute towards democratizing content. Internet Exchange is basically an infrastructure that ensures seamless interconnectivity and exchange of data between various networks namely internet service providers and content delivery networks like Amazon, Cloudfare amongst others.
How does the adoption of Internet eXchange Point directly help in the speedy adoption of ed-tech?
The adoption of ed-tech has been more gradual in the country. The on-going lockdown created a need to shift aggressively to ed-tech solutions. Though the metro cities have been cognizant about the idea of ed-tech, it is only during 2020 that non-metro cities also started participating in this .
Metro cities were easily able to adapt to the ed-tech revolution owing to availability of faster broadband internet access, however non-metro cities couldn’t keep pace. Lack of stable internet connections and the considerable amount of investment has created blockages on the road to speedy adoption of broadband in tierII and tierIII towns. There is hardly any wireline broadband available in rural areas. To combat this challenge, Internet service providers need to consider and opt for Internet exchange as a permanent. Internet eXchange like that of Extreme IX can help in introducing cheaper broadband solutions and extend buffer-free learning experiences that can help pave a comparatively brighter future for Edutech in India. These Internet eXchange Points are also helping in extending stable and affordable internet solutions in tier 2 and tier 3 cities of the country.
To explain the science behind it, Internet eXchange Points offers an avenue for direct exchange of data between content providers and internet service providers which will result in lower upstream costs allowing ISPs to offer highly affordable broadband plans. Moreover, with localized content, users would not have to wait for content to load or buffer during a learning session. In addition, it would also push more users to enroll in digital education platforms with a rich user experience that is lighter on the pockets. Additionally, when EdTech platforms collaborate with IXes, cost of content distribution is significantly reduced thus providing more affordable plans which will enable more students to subscribe.
During the lockdown, many tier2 and tier 3 cities faced internet-related challenges which impacted a child’s education. How do you think the introduction of IXP players like Extreme IX can help solve this problem?
Physical interaction in schools and colleges is a distant dream for the next few months, maybe years also, so the only thing that can ensure a continuing education, especially for children, is learning through the internet. Though presented with many logistics led challenges in the beginning, online learning is becoming a go-to solution for children and adults alike. If the country as a collective wishes to ensure access to quality teaching, it is necessary to popularise India’s Edutech narrative, which requires emphasis on infrastructural set-up.
Affordable and fast internet is still a luxury in most parts of the country but this is where Internet eXchange Point will play a role leading to faster adoption of Ed-tech across the country. In Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities, the broadband sector is mainly unorganized or non-existent, resulting in either slower connection speeds at a higher cost or no access at all. Due to higher prices, many users aren’t able to access high speed broadband Internet, thus reducing chances for children in remote pockets to take benefit of ed-tech.
Not just limited to ed-tech, do you think Internet eXchange Points will also help schools and the education sector in general?
Online education is the new normal and even after students resume offline education and go back to institutions, people will still be keen to continue seeking knowledge on popular EdTech platforms while the internet will also play an important role in academic sessions.
We already see that big universities and colleges provide free access to high speed internet to their students for purposes of research & assignment work. With more and more content getting localised, there is no need for schools or ISPs in the same city to connect via a third party internet provider. They can simply interconnect at a common aggregation point (IXP) and exchange traffic directly. OTTs can also bring their infra to such aggregation points and then only about 20-30% of traffic will be required from telecom players or other big networks. Here IXPs will immensely help in the education sector in general adapt to new normal and make ed-tech based learning affordable helping bridge the digital divide and divide in quality teaching.