The India Budget 2019 announced by interim finance minister Piyush Goyal didn’t give any infrastructure support – optical fiber for broadband and 5G — for struggling telecom operators in India.
India Government aims to create 1 lakh digital villages over the next five years — without offering support to mobile service providers, Rajan S Mathews, director general of COAI, said. “We expected targeted initiatives to boost India’s telecom sector considering the weak financial position of the sector.”
India’s BharatNet broadband project, which will connect 250,000 gram panchayats by March 31, 2019, after completing 100,000 GPs in phase-I in December 2017, is far from completion, government officials said.
The objective of this broadband project is to facilitate the delivery of e-governance, e-health, e-education, e-banking and other services to citizens across India.
“We have completed approximately 50 percent of the project, and the remainder is targeted for completion by March 2019,” Telecom minister Manoj Sinha said in October 2018.
Promises vs achievements
The budget in 2018-19 has provided Rs 10,000 crore in 2018-19 for the creation of telecom infrastructure. India has laid 301,154 km optical fiber cable till December 2018 against 238,677 km. of optical fibre cable in November, 2017.
India’s budget documents revealed that India connected 121,652 Gram Panchayats by optical fiber cable in 2018 after taking the fibre to 103,275 Gram Panchayats in 2017. 116,411 GPs are Service Ready in 2018.
The phase I of the Bharatnet project connected 100,000 gram panchayat through optical fiber network enabling broadband access to over 20 crore rural Indians in about 250,000 villages. This means, India added nearly 20,000 GPs to the Bharatnet project in 12 months, showing the slow process of the infrastructure investment.
The Government in Budget 2018 proposed to setup 500,000 Wi-Fi hotspots to provide broadband access to five crore rural citizens. India did not reveal the status of the Wi-Fi project.
BSNL has provisioned WiFi hotspots at 1,742 GPs and FTTH connections at 13,513 GPs in various states. BBNL has provided for provisioning of an FTTH connection by BSNL at every GP of Phase I, for a period of one year. Such connections have already been provided to 70,238 GPs.
India has disbursed Rs 17,786 crore till date. India has allocated Rs 10,000 crore for USOF during the financial year 2018-19. Out of this, Rs 8,175 crore has been allotted for the Bharat Net project. The Government has launched Phase II of Bharat Net project with Rs 30,920 crore budget on 13 November, 2017.
Telecom Commission in July 2018 approved a Last Mile Connectivity Model for providing Wi-Fi connectivity to Government institutions. So far, Wi-Fi hotspots have been installed at 39,359 GPs and out of them, services are being provided in 10,775 GPs, catering to more than 11 lakh subscribers.
No action for 5G
India Budget document indicated that the government has released Rs 35 crore in March, 2018 to set up the 5G Test Bed at IIT, Chennai against the total cost of Rs 224 crore over a period of 36 months.
Indigenous 5G Bed project teams in various locations are focused on creating a first version Test Bed requirement and design finalization at each location. They have also started the design and building of some of the components of the test bed.