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White Paper on Urgent Need to Streamline the Build out of National Broadband Infrastructure (NBI) for a Convergent India by full Exploitation of CATV Networks

By

Col Mahesh Khera and Naseem Ahmad

Emerging Technological Scenario

Current technological scenario visualizes a ubiquitous use of mobile phones, tablets, lap tops and TVs. If we club these into a 4-screen ecosystem, the first thing to appreciate is that all these are connected and Internet is the most common app and web being an ubiquitous bearer, these would come by default with each of these end user devices. The connectivity is also going to be ubiquitous IP. What are we going to use these devices for can also be clubbed into apps, services and content. While an end user really does not bother about the underlying technology and connectivity, fixed and/or mobile, certainly s(h)e is concerned about the end device which is her/his choice and is owned by her/him as also the app, service or content which at that time is most important to her/him.

Along with true broadband service, India is waiting to see an emergence of 3G and 4G in a very big way. 4G is going to be mostly LTE and going forward, it would most certainly be all IP paving the way for around 1/4 subs base being 3G say 250 M in 2014 if M&A guide lines go well. It is clear that we are in for a big broadband revolution both fixed and mobile. Mobile streaming TV is going to be a big service even though it may be watched for not more than 20 to 30 mins a day but it would be a must have service by 2016 like e-mail on mobile. All this comes with its own issues of content, roaming, charges etc.

Need for a Ubiquitous Broadband

Broadband today is not ubiquitous even if we include mobile broadband too. The broadband is coming up as part of National Broadband Plan (NBP) under which NOFN is being rolled out; however, there is a huge question mark over the last mile access network which has been left up to the operators to roll out. Since 1994, private operators have abundantly rolled out wireless networks but hardly any high capacity fixed access network for consumer broadband. Whether open access FTTX networks for consumer broadband as recently being seen in the developed countries for their GDP enhancement start coming up in India remains to be seen. Nonetheless, all this is going be IP based.

MIB has under the CATV Regulations Act started a national exercise for the digitization of CATV in phases going up to Mar 2014. The technology neutral approach has been followed there but there are only two technologies DVB and IP TV delivered over different media like cable, xDSL, FTTX and satellite DTH. The development of IP is fast becoming so ubiquitous that Internet TV is being talked about which is over IP and not DVB.

As and when true broadband for consumers starts proliferating, India would also soon see a big number of VAS and content oriented services. This will bring up a huge number of VAS and content providers. The issues of Digital Rights Management (DRM) would become pronounced. All of these would be delivered over IP targeted to a 4-screen ecosystem. Therefore, copy rights, IPR, safety and security of content become important.

Digitization of CATV

Government has very rightly taken up the digitization of CATV as a national project. This is a land mark decision which needs to be appreciated as it has unlimited benefits for India. The big question is how this exercise should be done so that country benefits for eternity.

A simple concept here is that we must exploit the best of both DVB and IP in the digitization process to realize on ground an open access multi play infrastructure.

The motivation comes from the fact that DVB addresses the content and IP addresses the ubiquitous carriage and distribution. This hot puerile combination retains the primary objective of digitization of CATV where stake holders like MSOs, LCOs, broadcasters and other content owners and aggregators do not lose anything while throwing open the network for other non TV services too. The gainers are both MSOs and LCOs who become providers of open access IP carriage and distribution infrastructure which becomes a big highway and carries the conventional digital TV, video traffic as also allows VOIP, High Speed Internet (HSI) and very potent high capacity IP back haul for all wireless cells like femto, pico, micro, small, macro, 3G, 4G etc. Such a scenario, where carriage (nothing to do with the carriage fee between broadcasters and MSOs) and distribution mechanism is ubiquitous IP, separates the content from carriage. Carriage truly becomes agnostic to content and services as also has no dependence upon physical media which may be any like copper DSL, coax, OFC (FTTX), wireless and satellite.

The country stands to gain immensely. There will be a huge penetration of true broadband into very large number of CATV HHs enabling multi play of voice, data, TV, video and Fixed Mobile Convergence (FMC) through smallest femto, smaller pico, small micro and macro cells of 3G and LTE being back hauled through this ubiquitous IP carriage and distribution. The Total Cost of Generation, Distribution and Operation (TCGDO) come down and as such the services can be priced low. Affordability gets catapulted and the consumer is the greatest beneficiary.

MSOs and LCOs apart from carrying TV and video traffic are enabled to offer their open access infrastructure to any service provider like telcos, MNOs and ISPs. They have additional revenue opportunities and would get compensated for losing the carriage fee and any other money due to older method of accounting of analog CATV subs. Consumers and the country gain hugely because of fair accounting.

Convergence is Imminent

Convergence is the hottest path which would bring a paradigm shift in the way data services would be delivered. Convergence would soon see coming together of all major service providers. One scenario is coming together of DTH operators, fixed service providers, mobile operators and BWA operators. Imagine a DTH STB with a very versatile remote-cum-keyboard which is capable of:-

(a) Satellite TV as usual being done at present.

(b) A USB port allows wireless dongle to make DTH TV as wireless connected TV. This is a very good new business opportunity for DTH operators, mobile operators, BWA operators and ISPs.

(c) An Ethernet port allows fixed service providers to make DTH TV as connected TV with High Speed Internet (HSI) and all IP TV apps. This is another very good business opportunity for DTH operators, fixed service providers and ISPs.

Stake holders like LCOs and MSOs also need to evaluate the above scenario and upgrade their cable infrastructure to allow not only just digital TV (DVB) but also IP TV for all non TV apps too over IP. In case they do not do this, they would soon find losing out to DTH players in a big way. Moreover, smart TVs with built-in total connectivity infrastructure inside giving a versatile remote-cum-keyboard have started seeing the light of the day.

Major Strategic Shift for MICT and MIB is Good for India

Google fiber TV and Google fiber are latest to bring together HD TV and super speed internet. It is indeed an eye opener. Our MICT and MIB need to work together. There is a need for us to visualize as to what our children would get out of Telecom, Media (TV) and Technology (TMT). None of us would like a pea nut for our generations next while the developed economies children would continue with low priced feast of finest class of cashew and they would innovate so much that we would remain dumb struck. We would never like our children to stay folded hands and simply admire their amazing infrastructure. We need a strategic shift.

We need to accept this looming truth and give better direction to our on-going telecom and CATV infrastructure roll out process which is directly impacting our GDP growth by -1.38 % to - 6.9 % from 2013 to 2020 as every 10 % penetration of broadband enhances the GDP by 1.38 % and NTP 2012 targets 600 million broadband users by 2020 or so. In order for this to actually happen and does not remain less than 18 million broadband users in Mar 2013 against the target of 100 million by 2012, our vision needs to be much wider.

Our two key ministries MICT and MIB need to be re-organized so as to fully exploit their respective competencies. While MIB is best equipped to handle all facets of information and content which the end user is served through different networks of radio (FM/AM), cable (CATV) and satellite (DTH), MICT is the last word in all types of networks. The networks are built, deployed and operated around the media like copper, cable, OFC, radio and satellite and different Customer Premise Equipment (CPEs), including handsets, devices and Set Top Boxes (STBs). These are incomplete without active Network Elements (NEs) and most importantly Network Management Systems and Business Support Systems like OSS, BSS, CRM, contact centers, revenue assurance and fraud management. MICT is fully organized to handle all facets like policies, technology, regulatory and commercial aspects of all types of networks. MICT is also the only body which can effectively manage the spectrum for all wireless, RF and satellite networks. Spectrum being the most important oxygen for all wireless, RF and satellite networks cannot be split for management between MICT and MIB. MIB is the last word for all information and content being consumed by the users every minute. Allowing MICT to manage all networks infrastructure and services and MIB to manage all information and content and applications by all end beneficiary government ministries and departments would be the most logical step. This would result into optimum use of competencies, yield synergy, reduce delays in strategic decisions and above all save a lot of government expenditure removing all overlaps causing inefficiency.

To substantiate this, let’s see the example of CATV network. India has 140 million HHs getting CATV service since 1988. Except for mostly unorganized laying of OFC by the LCOs and MSOs taking it closer to the HHs, nothing has changed in the CATV network. While the rest of the developed world has progressed so much that CATV operators have become potent competitors to telcos, India has slipped this opportunity. 140 million HHs are only getting poor quality of CATV service on an infrastructure which if upgraded at a pittance can deliver a multi play of voice, High Speed Internet, TV, video, Fixed Mobile Convergence (FMC), back haul and so on. Telcos have not invested in high capacity wired access network and will never do but focus on 3G and 4G and LCOs/MSOs are directionless. The country suffers. There is a need to resolve this as soon as possible by giving all networks to MICT so that every piece of network infrastructure is fully exploited through good policy and regulatory framework capable of allowing a future proof open access ecosystem, built around FTTX, Internet Over Cable (IOC), Ethernet Over Cable (EOC), to see the light of the day as a carrier grade access infrastructure by organizing 5000 MSOs and 60000 LCOs to work in cooperation with 8 national telcos to deliver carrier grade cost effective multi play including mobility, at least 30 to 40 % lower in cost. If spectrum is also rationalized, the TCGDO can be reduced by up to 50 %. The service can thus be priced also low benefiting the consumers.

Recommendations

The following is very strongly recommended to be implemented immediately :-

(a) Immediate structural separation of carriage (networks) from content, i.e., all networks are governed and managed by the MICT and all content for its value and semantics flowing through these networks is governed and managed by the MIB.

(b) Bring out a simple interconnection regulation on equitable basis allowing the facilitation of partnerships between telcos as the main service providers and MSOs and LCOs as the last mile partners/franchisees.

(c) Lay down a firm policy to re-vamp the CATV digitization completion in such a way that the network infrastructure allows both TV and non TV services to flow through their last mile, technology neutral open access digital, next generation, ubiquitous FTTx or HFC based network inter-alia, supporting IPOC and EOC.

(d) Come out with supporting and nondiscriminatory band width distribution policies for all service providers to fully exploit NOFN.

(e) Allow FDI in CATV at par with telecom.

(f) Make it mandatory for the foreign entity coming to invest and or own the CATV network(s) to upgrade the same to digital, next generation and ubiquitous allowing both TV and non TV services to flow through.

(g) Enable RoW for CATV industry at par with telecom industry now that both of them would be managed by the MICT.

(h) Release adequate spectrum from the 700 MHz band currently employed for terrestrial TV for rapid proliferation of BWA not just in top cities but also the rest of the country.

(i) Once MICT takes charge of all networks, CATV Regulation ACT should also be re-visited and removed of all anomalies.

(j) TRAI too needs to be well staffed to handle complex broadcasting issues as content would now flow across ubiquitous networks.

(k) Just like the CATV local loop is being proposed to be open to partnerships with carriers, telcos too should open their local loop for other service providers who can offer compelling apps and services like surveillance and security services etc. No owner of local loop should refuse the last mile to any authorized service provider by virtue of being a licensee. The rev share aspects can be mutually agreed between the two. If required, TRAI can come out with a simple interconnection regulation.

Conclusion

A fast growing economy like India cannot afford to miss building a convergent India any more. The country has made very good progress in telecom but that alone is inadequate. Full exploitation of competencies already available with MICT and MIB is the need. Overlap must be eliminated so that management of networks and information and content is efficient, fast and well streamlined to inter-alia send right signals to the international investment community. In this context, India would need to be different from developed economies. Our organized MSOs and LCOs can be effective providers of digital, next generation, open access and ubiquitous last mile infrastructure for telcos and other service providers to seek interconnection and deliver the services in a cooperative way rather than in a poorly competitive way making them very low grade last mile providers gasping for breath. Likewise, in the absence of availability of high capacity true broadband based mobile backhaul, the cellular operators would be gasping for breath. The collaboration is in the infrastructure space and not in the products, apps and services space which must remain competitive for the benefit of consumers. MICT by having a full command and control over all policy, regulatory, technology and interconnection framework for all types of networks can provide both

CMSPs and MSOs/LCOs the much needed oxygen to their respective networks infrastructure. MIB can really focus upon the complex issues of content and information flowing across all networks.

An open access future proof ecosystem for broadband, mobile backhaul and TV throws open infinite space for unlimited VAS services including the must have virtual education, virtual healthcare, e-governance, personal safety and security, parenting and social monitor and so on, both on fixed and mobile networks, all at affordable tariffs on mobiles, tablets, PCs and TV. All stake holders get new revenue opportunities and country progresses.

A vast country like India can no more afford to always follow the trends prevailing in the 40 developed nations, 36 in Europe, Americas and Australia and 4 in Asia. Majority of these 40 developed nations are smaller in size, very high in education and per capita and very less EWS. India is exactly the opposite having 750 million EWS, thus it needs urgent innovation to proliferate world’s lowest tariff based broadband penetration in the homes and hands of its population. This is the true enabling of EWS much more valuable than 125,000 Cr Food Security Bill.

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