Patience is needed in the Indian context, not because things are slow for purposeful reason but basically things are little more complex in the Indian set-up, says Rajiv Kapur, Managing Director, Broadcom India. In an interview with EC’s Mohd Ujaley, he explains “there is political complexities, there is lack of history of broadband or even low speed Internet connectivity, and then the services and use cases are not yet established for the broadband.”
What is your take on broadband penetration? Has there been any substantial progress compared to what we discussed last time?
India is still in the early days with broadband. The public data of broadband subscribers available from TRAI also indicates that. But what’s interesting is, there is a visible movement of activity across all technologies of broadband. When I say all technologies, I mean this: we see increased Wi-Fi, we definitely see LTE – that’s on the wireless side, we see movement to higher DSL speeds, we are also seeing deployment of (Gigabit Passive Optical Networks) GPON and an increased activity from the cable operators. And, there’s also metro Ethernet. All six of these technologies are seeing increased interest and deployments in the country. At the numbers level, I will say India is still in the early days. There is a hockey stick visible but the slope of the hockey stick is not very clear. But it’s definitely starting to happen.
How crucial is broadband connectivity for the overall growth of the country?
The development of a country’s GDP is by having the entire country develop. It is not about having five metropolitan cities or fifty-five cities develop. From the government’s point of view, even for the private sector, there is a scalability issue if the infrastructure of connectivity is not there.
The entire world has now started recognising broadband as an important resource, as a utility. In fact the upper middle class in India has already started saying “I can’t live without broadband”. We struggle harder when the Internet is down than even when the electricity is down. It’s becoming an important utility to our own lifestyles at least for a segment of India. Now this segment is still not a very large segment in India. But if you see it from the national point of view, we want even the most remote person to be able to receive the services without having to migrate to the larger cities.
Take an example of healthcare, we have issues of scalability and access of the medical system reaching remote India. How many expert technicians of equipment can be there? One can still get technicians–who can run an ultrasound–but who is going to interpret those reports? Who is going to give medical advice? Does the patient who needs to be under watch now need to be in the city forever while he is under watch? How do you bring healthcare, education and various several such services to the entire country? Access to these may never be equal. But this is the starting point of making sure that rural India is also upgrading, that it is connected. The government’s initiative on broadband is an important initiative because it has a direct implication on the GDP of our country.
You are of the view that National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) is strategically important for India but look at the roll-out, it is steady and highly slow. How patience a country could be with such a strategic project?
Firstly, we have to applaud the fact that the government recognises the importance, is taking action and is able to put resources on it. Secondly, I think, in India, we have to be a little more patient. We have many more challenges because we are starting with a lesser available setup. The issue here is not about upgrading speeds, we are talking about lack of any connectivity being established for the first time.
There are government policy frameworks around it. There is learning and procurement, there is a lot more complexity involved here than just upgrading the existing network. I used to live outside India and now I have been living in India for the last 10-12 years. Patience, I think is needed in the Indian context and not because things are slow for a purposeful reason. Things are a little more complex in the Indian setup; there are political complexities, there is lack of history of broadband or even low speed Internet connectivity. Their services and use cases are not yet established. It is complex!
Private companies have shown tremendous enthusiasm to government’s Digital India and Make in India initiatives. What is your sense of these two programmes?
I think these multiple campaigns definitely have deep commitment and investment from the highest ranks of government, with Prime Minister Modi himself spending significant time on these–especially on trips to the US there was visible time spent and a campaign on it to attract investment. I personally don’t have first-hand experience with how advanced the discussions are because these are not yet in the public domain. But I am very bullish that India as a manufacturing hub–the “Make in India” campaign will take off.
But you will happy to see something very soon happening on the ground?
Yes, I will be very happy to see that. But I will always remind ourselves to be patient. This will not go from 0 to 100 overnight. One has to be patient as long as there is visible progression with time. You want to see forward progress. And let us not expect that slope to be unreal. Part of the risk we run as a country is when we go unreal on the slope. One can make mistakes in implementation. So, ‘slow and steady’ is a better approach. I am personally bullish that it is going to happen. But only time will tell.