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Colors of North-East in the spectrum of telecom

The North-East of India is such a beautiful region that every nook and corner is a sight to behold. Nestling in the left arm of the country, the region homes amazingly distinctive people, languages, cultures, and the terrain too is beautifully diverse and different from the mainland.

What also differentiates the lives of people here, is the comparatively thinner presence of technology in the region. While rest of the country uses aggregator apps for hiring cabs, browses through online menus to get their food delivered home, and orders services online, a similar story of digital enterprise is yet to be written for North-East.

Of particular note is the state of telecom connectivity in the region. North-East field unit of Department of Telecommunications looks after telecom network in the six states of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura. The region is home to 1.15 percent of the national population sparsely spread (compared to the rest of India) over a geographical area that is 5.37 percent of the national landmass. Twenty-eight percent of the inhabited villages in the region are not covered by any kind of mobile services (2G/3G/4G), as against the overall national figure of five percent.

Owing to the sparsely populated geography and the poor penetration of wireless signals through the crests and troughs of the hilly terrain, there is an increased requirement of telecom towers in the region compared to rest of the country. This also makes a relatively poor case for commercial operations by telecom service providers in the region.

Taking cognisance of the state of network here, the Department of Telecom has embarked upon a number of projects to improve connectivity in the region. DoT vide USOF is funding the installation of 725 towers to extend coverage to 916 uncovered villages in the five states of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura. Also, 276 towers are being erected along portions of National Highways falling in these states. A separate project, allotted recently, intends to fund erection of 889 towers in inhabited but uncovered villages and along National Highways in the state of Meghalaya.

While the developed world feeds on wired telephony, India is predominantly a wireless telecom economy. Though prima-facie it may appear as hi-tech and fanciful, yet wireless telephony may actually imply a compromise in quality if it is not backed up with a significant spread of wires in the backhaul. Our country stands at a humble figure of 32 percent towers connected on fiber backbone, a figure which needs to be taken upward to 70 percent in order to facilitate high-speed data connectivity and 5G rollout.

Speaking volumes about the backhaul connectivity in the North-East region is the fact that out of 1600-plus Internet Service Providers licensed by DoT all over India, only about 20 are operational in the region, and barely over half of them are based out of the region itself. Latest TRAI figures of wireline teledensity of 0.64 in the North-East service area, compared to that of 1.5 in the country as a whole, further paint a dismal picture of wired connectivity in the last mile. To address the issue, the department is also funding a project for creation and augmentation of fiber network between the Block Headquarters and District Headquarters in the North-East region. Another project envisages ring connectivity among state capitals and individual districts.

A nation-wide Broadband Mission has been launched by the DoT in December 2019 with a target to provision Broadband access for all villages by 2022. To proliferate Broadband down to villages in the North-East region, connectivity is being extended to rural areas by installing over 3000 BharatNet sites on satellite. 1263 sites have already been made service-ready on fiber stretched all the way down from the block level point of presence under Phase-I and CSC is working towards delivery of internet services via Wi-Fi Access Points and FTTH connections through these sites.

The potential of North-East, its culture, sports, nature, geography is all a promising story that ought to be heard the world over. The establishment of a pervasive telecom connectivity in the region would enable this well required outreach for the people here.

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