Pramod Kumar Srivastava
VP-Customer Unit, BharatNet and Smart Cities,
Sterlite Technologies

Designing, Building, and Managing the World’s Largest Rural Network

BharatNet, one of the world’s most ambitious rural broadband projects, will have large-scale societal and economic impact by bringing online connectivity to 2.5 lakh gram panchayats (GPs) across the country. This project of national importance will enable the realization of the Digital India vision and other ambitious projects of the Government of India that will make it possible to take Internet and telecommunication services to every corner of the country.

BharatNet aims to establish a highly scalable network infrastructure accessible on a non-discriminatory basis, to provide on-demand affordable broadband connectivity to all households and on-demand capacity to all institutions.

With its capability of designing, building, and managing smarter networks, Sterlite Tech is committed to enabling this. Sterlite Tech is the only company in India with silicon-to-software integrated offerings of optical communication products, system and network integration, and telecom software, making it the ideal partner to effectively lead the BharatNet implementation.

With its potential to bring one billion people online, BharatNet will enable access to quality education, healthcare, and government services, and enable smarter decisions around agriculture and irrigation management, potable water, solid-waste management, and other critical applications in the remotest parts of the country. Sterlite Tech has demonstrated technology capability in building a Digital India through BharatNet Phase-I, several Smart Cities, and working with the Indian defence.

Given the coverage scale and complexity of execution, BharatNet is one of the largest infrastructure projects undertaken by the central government. The project implementation involves multiple government bodies at the central and decentralized levels, agencies, partners, and beneficiaries. This mega project requires a technology mix of optical fiber, radio, and satellite to ensure the availability of the network in different types of terrains. Sterlite Tech is already building smarter broadband networks in remote and inhospitable terrains of the country, and has the expertise to scale further.

Sterlite Tech has been a major provider of optical fiber cables in Phase-I of the project. A critical need for BharatNet in Phase-I was to expedite deployment basis timely availability of optical fiber cables, and Sterlite Tech prioritized optical fiber cable manufacturing and delivered a significant part of the overall order to BBNL at a very short notice.

Current Status

The Indian government has plans to complete the BharatNet project in three phases:

Phase-I. Connectivity to 1 lakh GPs through underground network.

Phase-II. Connectivity to balance 1.5 lakh GPs by December 2018, with a mix of underground, aerial, satellite, and radio networks.

Phase-III. Upgradation of the network with a ring architecture to meet future infrastructure requirements for IoT and 5G. Planned completion by 2023.

Given the scale and the complexity of the project, however, BharatNet has seen some delays. A few challenges that have contributed to the delay have been:

  • Fragmented buying behavior and involvement of multiple stakeholders
  • Non-involvement of States, who are critical collaborators for the success of the project, in planning and implementation
  • Non-utilization of created infrastructure in the absence of last-mile connectivity and ICT components required for delivering services to rural citizens

It is agreed that there needs to be flexibility in the approach toward execution, standardization and empowerment of executing agencies to expedite the project. Sterlite Tech has taken a leadership position to help define the governance of this project, and has been in regular dialogue with the ecosystem regarding the following:

Enabling usage of laid network under BharatNet Phase-I. Most villages connected through BharatNet are currently not lit; and even those lit do not have running service. It is important to put the laid network under use to ensure its upkeep. There is a strong need for a comprehensive network management of laid network and enabled services on the lit network, which needs to be an immediate focus area of the government.

Strengthening the implementation model and bringing standardization for BharatNet Phase-II. Given that multiple agencies such as CPSUs, states, and private players, and several deployment methods are being used for the roll out, there is a need for very strong governance led by standardization across the network. Standardization needs to be ensured across the entire value chain, starting from design and specifications to deployment practices and network management.

Standardization and strong governance processes will need to be driven through a Single Point of Contact (i.e. BBNL). Identification of competent executing agencies through a well structured pre-qualification process will ensure timely completion of the project with desired quality.

To ensure speed, quality of service, and competitive cost, the implementation and management partner must possess critical competencies in being able to design, build, and manage future-proof networks. This requires integrated capability to design the networks, build up till last-mile connectivity, and manage the network to ensure service-level agreements and quality of service.

Enabling Progressive States to Build BharatNet Phase-III

To ensure the effective implementation of the larger scope of BharatNet Phase-III, it is recommended that government enable a few progressive states to implement Phase-III directly. This will work as a test ground for future mass roll outs under BharatNet

Going forward, Sterlite Tech will be a major contributor as a system integrator to design, build, and manage BharatNet Phases-II and III. With its purpose of transforming everyday living by delivering smarter networks, Sterlite Tech is committed to nation building. We have partnered with the government in this prestigious project since inception, and are committed to designing, building, and managing broadband networks for the country.

With inputs from Gunjan Sharma, Chief Manager–Corporate Strategy, Sterlite Technologies

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