India's BBNL Vs Australia's NBN

And I am back with blog post. It has been almost months since I posted last time. Last few months of life went extremely busy but I loved them. A completely new learning curve.   My today’s post is primarily about India’s BBNL. It’s not the first time I am posting about it but since topic is pretty widely in media these days due to Modi’s Digital India plan.  

So what is BBNL?

Well, BBNL stands for Bharat Broadband Network Limited. It has got quite a few names including NOFN (National Optic Fiber Network), and another old name on Mr Rajiv Gandhi. BBNL website is available here. This is a legacy project taken over by recent NDA Govt. Originally it was introduced by Kapil Sibal during UPA regime. The idea is to lay significant amount of dark fiber till Gram Panchayat level. For this an initial fund of 20,000 crore which is around $4 USD has been budgeted.  

So what would be real impact of BBNL?

Well not so hard to guess - just nothing! BBNL project itself came from very fuzzy numbers in terms of how much coverage needs to be done, how it will be done and a extremely strong focus of rural India in mind. All this sounds perfact in Socialist world but in real India all this makes nothing. Before I come on to BBNL’s claims Vs realities, let’s get on to some related useful data from BBNL website.    

Concept diagram


Phase 1 of project (Detailed data here)

  • It will cover 16 states via BSNL
  • 10 states via Railtel
  • 5 states via PGCIL


Claims Vs realities check

BBNL will bring digital revolutionHard to accept claim specially when it is just incremental network. BSNL/MTNL/RailTel/PGCIL has their own challenges and it's hard to believe that a new body riding on top of these will be able to bring some mass change.
BBNL will get Rural India on 100MbpsIncorrect. Forget rural India, it's even challenging to have urban India on decent speeds. The challenge remains same - the last mile access issue as well as cost of bandwidth at backbone due to screwed up peering in India. BBNL technically is a "middle access network" but has been project as last mile network.
BBNL will facilitate backbone for small networksNo! The reason BBNL will fail to be a strong middle access network is same as that why BSNL, RailTel, PowerGrid, STPI failed. They all exists but none of them excel in either of the areas they work. A company combined of these networks along with fact that termination will be literally a Gram Panchayat building is illogical. It won't be able to facilitate necessary fiber rings termination. Further more the challenge of Internet license in India will discourage any small ISPs to come into picture.
BBNL will facilitate e-Governancee-Govenance is lot more about data and today's technology (DSL, copper leased line, fixed wireless access etc) can easily cover up enough speeds to facilitate data sharing, digital information & records keeping etc. A full fledged fiber network just for it isn't a way out. Will it help? No. Why? Because if they can't do it now with existing technologies, they can't do it with new technologies anyways.
BBNL is a great step towards digital IndiaNo, because it is just an access network. In absence of private providers it will not work out and private providers till date cannot offer IP telephony or IPTV at affordable costs due to licensing reasons. Hence we are back to ground zero.
BBNL will fix India's broadband thrust! No because it simply isn't correct technological nor a targeted solution. Current broadband thrust is in Tier 1, Tier 2 and bit of Tier 3 cities. It's very little from rural areas. One needs to fix core first where good peering, more datacenter, an encouragement to local hosting is needed. Ignoring all that and putting a heavy access pipe in mid of nowhere will not help.

With all these, it’s way more different than a well defined and well planned project like NBN.


Some key features of NBN

  1. 93% population would be connected via fiber.
  2. 6% over fixed wireless from nearby sites which are fed over fiber.
  3. Competitive pricing to existing Australian providers.
  4. Single network for voice, data and video (no crazy licensing issues!)
  5. Real world end to end deployment plans and not just middle access network. A wholesale end to end network.


So what is best possible model for India?

Well, overall “Digital India” is too hyped term and most of people make wrong meaning out of it. Currently digital India is linked as India with ultra fast fiber links right in rural India with some random people making random use of it. This kind of fascination hardly makes any real meaning w.r.t the way demand and supply chains works. Checkout post “I Don’t Need a Gigabit at Home and Neither Do You”. Two of major Indian issues - High land pricing and very dense urban areas with jams etc can be very much solved with bird named “broadband”. If a good quality infrastructure with no over deployment is created in tier 2 and tier 3 then they can serve a significant demand. Lot more working from remote location, work from home, production out in smaller areas and best of all online wholesale and retail businesses. All that requires less than 100Mbps fiber links but something which is needed right away and by people who have devices right now. We need to implement project like Stokab (self-funded dark fiber network around Stockholm). Have access dark fiber across tier 1, tier 2 and lastly tier 3 cities along with opening of last mile access copper of BSNL. All this in combination with a better and open peering exchange can just bring revolution but alas all this just remains on my blog and not in real India. To get a sense of real BBNL, just checkout this video.  :(

With that being said, time to get back to work to create something amazing. :)

Disclaimer: Views are completely personal and have no relation with my employer.