New Delhi: The Modi government is set to spend Rs 7,000 crore (nearly USD 1 billion) on laying a fibre optic network in the northeastern states to improve internet connectivity but a senior government official from Nagaland has devised a solution that may not only cut costs by 75 percent but also be more effective.
The official, KD Vizo, Nagaland’s commissioner and IT secretary, has suggested an alternative technology – a High Altitude Platform Station (HAPS) – that can be operated from an unmanned airship or a balloon. This alternative comes at an estimated cost of Rs 1,750 crore, about 25 percent of the Rs 7,000 crore budget earmarked for the northeast out of the Rs.72,778 crore project under the National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN).
NOFN has the ambitious objective of providing 200,000 gram panchayats with internet connectivity. The project is intended to enable the government provide e-services and e-applications nationally. A special purpose vehicle – Bharat Broadband Network Limited (BBNL) – has been created as a public sector undertaking (PSU) under the Companies Act for executing the project.
“Underground optical fibre, laid in the hilly terrain of the northeastern states, with time has become defunct following landslides and soil erosion, a common phenomenon in the area because of the loose mountainous soil,” said Vizo.
Vizo was recently in Delhi to participate as a resource-person in a conclave themed “Connectivity Challenges in Northeast – Way Forward’. He emphasised that the region has already missed the first industrial revolution, but should not miss the second one, which is all about IT.
The northeastern region is entitled to a 90:10 share under the NOFN project, which is being funded by the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF).
“The operating altitude of this system is normally between 17 km and 22 km from the ground because in most regions of the world this represents a layer of relatively mild wind and less turbulence. It can function as an unmanned airship or balloon and it requires only electrical power to keep it and its payload functional,” the commissioner explained.
Since HAPS operates at much lower altitudes than satellites, it is possible to cover a small region like the northeastern part of India much more effectively than with a satellite. Lower altitude also means much lower link budget (hence lower power consumption) and smaller round trip delays compared to satellites, he added.
“It is a common phenomenon to see underground optical fibre hanging on trees along national and state highways in the region. In such a situation only a mixture of wireless, satellite and OFC Network can be effective,” said Vizo.
Explaining the advantages of HAPS, he said, “Unlike a satellite, which once launched, does not allow for full maintenance, in case of HAPS, it can undergo full maintenance. The cost of HAPS is only about a fourth of a normal geosynchronous Equatorial orbit (GEO) satellite.”
Vizo also urged the government to earmark a small budget under the USOF for installing of at least two such systems to cover the northeastern region with wireless broadband.
If the northeast is to be developed in terms of IT, then greater focus should be on wireless and satellite technologies as these can be installed faster and are more suitable for the difficult terrain in the region, said Vizo.