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Scrutiny
  
Just ‘USO’ it!
Wireless networks are not enough
17/09/2009

So when was the last time you spent a decent amount of time talking to your acquaintances on your good ol’ landline? Hard to remember, right? And to think that a little over a decade back, a mobile was supposed to be the privilege of the ridiculously rich.

As per data revealed by the CIA fact book, total number of mainlines in use in 2005 was 1,263,367,600 while number of mobile cellular users reached 2,168,433,600. While the total number of land line connections in China is 365.4 million, mobile connectivity was galloping ahead with 547.286 million in 2007. In US, the number of land lines is 163.2 million with 255 million mobile users. If these figures are stark, then the Indian context is shocking! While total number of land line connections in India is 37.75 million in 2009, mobile connections reached 362.3 million.

However, that does not in any way mean that we would be getting rid of wires; as we need to move beyond the concept of communication being predominantly restricted to voice. The wireless infrastructure has to be supported with a wireline infrastructure as well.

In a country with Internet penetration at just about 1%, we cannot afford to let a huge majority of our population miss the information age. Although the auctions of 3G spectrum may happen very soon, the real implementation would take a while, as thousands of base stations need to be set up and 3G enabled mobile devices need to be rolled out. Even then, speed will remain an issue. When we talk of rural India, we need to understand that with their very basic education, they would be needing more information in the form of pictures, videos, et al, rather than text; so the bandwidth requirements are huge.

Thankfully, there is hope that the government is going to utilise a part of its massive USO (Universal Services Obligation) fund, for which operators, and (hence customers) have been paying since 2002. The government plans to set up 5,500 telecom towers, improve fibre optic connectivity and provide all rural kiosks with broadband access, besides bringing in WIMAX services. This one-size-doesn’t-fit-all approach is immensely crucial to ensure that millions of Indians are able to stay connected.

By:- Sayan Ghosh
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