Promising Applications: Increasing uptake of broadband services

Broadband Technologies & Applications , August 31, 2011

The Indian broadband market is expected to follow an upward trajectory in light of increased government support and private participation. The launch of 3G services has enabled high speed internet browsing on mobile phones, including video streaming and videoconferencing. Also, with the launch of broadband wireless access (BWA) services planned by early 2012, mobile broadband as a means of internet access has a strong business case in India. According to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report, the mobile internet user base in India is expected to grow to 300 million by 2015 and will generate incremental revenues of Rs 940 billion.

The broadband application ecosystem in India has come a long way from typical applications like web browsing, internet surfing, email, instant messaging and social networking to advanced applications like voice over broadband, internet radio and live streaming. Though most of these applications are yet to mature, their uptake is crucial for the next phase of telecom growth in the country. takes a look at the key broadband applications available in the country...

VOIP is one of the key broadband applications and has seen high global uptake. The technology uses internet protocol (IP) to transmit voice and data. It allows broadband users to make international calls to a PC, landline or a mobile. It can also be used for voicemail and fax mail applications. While VOIP is a key global business that was valued at $49.8 billion in 2010, in India, it is at a nascent stage and is yet to see mass adoption.

This technology is expected to change the face of international communication for Indian telecom users by offering improved voice quality at affordable prices. Currently, 25 million Indians (non-resident Indians and persons of Indian origin) are living abroad, about 9 million small office/home offices are going global and nearly 300,000 students go overseas every year. The use of VOIP will reduce costs and improve productivity.

Despite its compelling advantages, VOIP has not taken off in the country because its applications are still under regulatory supervision. However, with the launch of 3G services and the upcoming BWA service rollout, its uptake is expected to pick up.

Another important IP-enabled application is 3G video calling, which offers the most advanced and interactive 3G video chat and social networking services. Unlike traditional unidirectional (broadcast) video streaming services, it allows users to switch from being passive viewers to interactive chat partners. At present, Indian consumers make around 3.2 billion video calls annually, which are expected to reach 29.6 billion in 2015.

Broadband applications also enable the media and entertainment industry to offer several services at the domestic and global levels. Digital advertising, for instance, has become the preferred medium for Indian advertisers. The Indian online advertising market is currently valued at around $200 million and would be worth $1 billion by end-2014. Also, with an increase in the availability of licensed music, digital music has become a major broadband application. Music enthusiasts prefer downloading music from the internet instead of buying CDs/DVDs. This has encouraged music companies to invest heavily in digital libraries. The number of legitimate music portals touched 400 at end-2010.

A recent entrant in the application space is Broadband TV. Launched by Bharti airtel in July 2011, it allows consumers to watch live TV on their PCs/laptops. Moreover, users can simultaneously browse the internet or work on the PC without any addition to their broadband data usage.

Globally, voice-based browsing is a new application, but this is yet to be commercially launched in India. It is an automatic speech recognition system that enables verbal communication between the user and the computer. The service would benefit the country’s huge rural population. Currently, the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing is working on a voice-based browsing project and expects to implement it by 2013.

Mobile TV is another promising application in the broadband segment, given the enormous success of mobile services and the popularity of TV in India. There are various types of mobile TV service. These include broadcast, multicast and unicast of both real-time and stored content. Currently, all major telecom companies – Bharti airtel, Vodafone Essar, Idea Cellular, Reliance Communications, Aircel, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited – are providing these services.

Also, banks can use handset devices as a platform to provide services to the unbanked population. These services include long distance remittances, micropayments and other financial services. The Reserve Bank of India has allowed 39 banks to provide mobile banking services and has increased the limit on the total amount transacted from Rs 5,000 to Rs 50,000. The State Bank of India is providing these services in association with Bharti airtel. Also, several innovative branchless banking solutions are being provided by using a combination of technologies such as 3G, biometric identification and near field communications. In addition, the use of mobile wallets, which has become popular globally, is gaining momentum in the Indian market.

Rural applications

Given the limited penetration of wireline broadband services in rural areas, mobile broadband can play an important role in these regions by providing improved internet access.

The government has taken initiatives like the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the National Rural Health Mission, Bharat Nirman and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme to improve the quality of life in rural areas. The benefits of these programmes, however, are yet to reach the remotest corners of the country. In these areas, broadband can enable wider public access to government information and facilitate services such as e-governance, telemedicine and e-education.

Also, through broadband, farmers can receive relevant information on weather, crop and seed varieties, etc., as well as access markets for selling their produce. One of these services is Nano Ganesh, which allows farmers to control irrigation pump sets located in remote locations through their mobile phones. Tele-education and telemedicine are other segments where India has been making steady progress. In late 2007, Apollo Hospitals launched tele-consultation services with live interactive check-ups through the internet under the Gramjyoti project. Today, many hospitals are offering these services across the country.

In the education sector, 1.72 million schools and colleges including 326 million students would be provided broadband connections by 2014.

The union government launched the National e-Governance Plan in May 2006 to provide web-enabled e-governance services. This initiative has grown with the establishment of the statewide area network scheme. Under the project, the government is developing a network for providing web-enabled services to the government-to-government and government-to-consumer categories. So far, the project has covered seven states.

Moreover, the government plans to provide broadband coverage to every panchayat as well as back-end services to the large network of 100,000 common service centres. This will aid the growth of broadband applications in rural areas.

Issues and challenges

Low broadband penetration is a key barrier to the provision of broadband access across the country. Computer illiteracy is another major hurdle, especially in rural areas where only 3 per cent of the population is computer literate. Factors like the lack of relevant services in the desired vernacular and the limited number of public access points are adding to the problem. Other issues include non-cooperation in last mile copper unbundling and low data ARPUs.

Moreover, the spectrum allocated for broadband is inadequate to support the proliferation of services. Though the allocation of 3G and BWA spectrum promises improved data services, the current spectrum allocation for 3G is only 5 MHz, which will support only a limited number of wireless broadband users.


Going forward, broadband applications would be offered through a mix of wireline and wireless platforms in India. With the launch of 3G services, the future of broadband applications looks promising and users can expect quality services through this technology. However, the pricing of 3G and 4G services by operators would play an important role in their adoption. Also, the government will need to take the lead and develop critical infrastructure in association with private players to ensure ubiquitous and affordable broadband access.


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