A look at how National Highways
Authority of India (NHAI) is leveraging the use of IT
to make its mammoth road development project a success.
by Rahul Neel Mani
|“In the age of convergence,
the obvious choice is to drive voice, video, and
data through a single network. We knew VoIP would
have a good future” - Atul Kumar, General Manager,
The National Highways Authority
of India (NHAI) is responsible for the development,
maintenance, and management of National highways in
India. It's mandate is to construct 13,146 Km of 4/6
lane superior highways in India. This is a part of the
largest highway project ever in independent India called
the National Highway Development Project (NHDP).
NHAI has turned to IT to make
operations and management easier and keep regular communications
with all project sites. It has deployed a robust LAN
in its Head Office (HO), IT Telephony services, and
plans to deploy a nationwide WAN, to facilitate workflow
in its offices and project sites.
An ambitious project
NHAI is headquartered in New
Delhi and began operations in February 1995. The NHDP
is a dream project of the Prime Minister, and is implemented
under the able guidance of B.C. Khanduri, Union Minister
for Road Transport and Highways.
The NHDP has two components,
the Golden Quadrilateral (GQ) and the North-South-East-West
(NSEW) corridor. The GQ component is about building
a high-density corridor of 5,846 Km, which connects
Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and Kolkata. NHAI targets to
complete it by December 2004.
The NSEW component is about
building 7,300 Km in the related region, to be completed
by 2007. In addition to this, NHAI will also build stretches
of roads totaling to around 1,000 Km. This will allow
connectivity of hinterland to 10 major ports. Around
1,327 Km of road for GQ and around 558 Km for NSEW is
IT - The big facilitator
"I can't dream of executing
a project of this size without the support of technology
and connectivity. The idea is to create an 'IT highway'
that will support and benefit the operations and workflow
of the project. IT is a big facilitator there," said
Atul Kumar, General Manager, Information Technology
and Planning, NHAI. Kumar is responsible for the integration
of the LAN and the future WAN for NHAI.
NHAI plans to deploy a WAN to
improve communication between construction activities
going on simultaneously in different parts of the country.
The organization looked forward
to the following benefits of building an information
highway of this kind. Some of them were:
- It will help plan and execute
construction activities at various nationwide sites.
- Vital information that can
support efficient implementation of the project can
be shared quickly.
- It will reduce the cost
of communication since telephones and faxes, which
are currently used to communicate, run high bills.
- Information from toll booths
set up along the highway, regarding toll collection
and traffic statistics can be delivered to the NHAI
head office easily. Toll booths have already started
operating in certain stretches of roads which have
- Citizens can receive real-time
information about the
completion of roads and plan their travel routes.
Unlike other Government works
departments, NHAI has a thin staff. In such a situation,
it's useful to deploy IT and share information that
will help manage a project of this size.
|Click image for larger view
|IT Infrastructure at NHAI's
The company LAN and the applications
NHAI's Head Office LAN in New
Delhi has around 1,400 nodes comprising voice and data
points, and uses optic fiber.
The LAN has spare capacity for
connecting printers, phones, and other devices in future.
"This will take care of our requirement at the HO for
several years. An external auditor has certified that
the quality of work is of international standard," explained
Kumar. Atul Kumar, who is a Civil Engineer and M.Tech
from IIT Delhi, has over 25 years of experience in national
and overseas assignments. He thought it wise to use
the services of an external auditor to ensure high performance
levels from the network.
Applications like VoIP, financial
and HR databases, GIS (Geographic Information System),
and drawing & document management systems run on
the LAN. When the WAN is fully functional, it will be
integrated with the LAN and allow more applications
to be run on it.
These applications will provide
- The pattern of vehicles
running on the roads.
- Peak and off-peak traffic
- Toll collection information.
The information is currently
received through e-mail in the form of daily, weekly,
and monthly reports. "In future we hope to receive real-time
information online," said Kumar.
Nine Cisco Catalyst switches
manage the LAN backbone. Out of these, eight are Layer
2 switches and one is a Layer 3 switch. A server farm,
which houses 10 servers run applications like databases,
printing, GIS, and financial applications.
The systems are capable of supporting
1,000 VLANs. Twenty-five VLANs are in use now. The facility
management contract has been outsourced to an ISO 9002
When NHAI's LAN will be integrated
with its WAN, the company hopes to receive more information
- Pre-construction feasibility
studies: These include reports like land acquisition
status; and information about removing/shifting of
utilities like pipelines, electric polls, and high-tension
- Construction activities:
Reports like current status of construction, difficulties,
and other information like material, and equipment.
- Post-construction activities:
Reports like maintenance, operations, and management
of completed stretches.
This information is currently
received through e-mail, faxes, and telephones. Since
there isn't an advanced connectivity option like VPN,
the field offices are not linked to the HO.
The IP Telephony Buzz
NHAI was already using EPABX
systems for telephone calls and faxes. It wanted to
explore options that would help the company save communication
expenses. It decided to use VoIP technology and offer
IP telephony services on the network.
"The purpose was to achieve
maximum with minimum infrastructure. In the age of convergence,
the obvious choice is to drive voice, video, and data
through a single network," says Kumar. "We knew that
the use of VoIP would be deregulated and the technology
would have a good future."
NHAI looked for the following
benefits from using VoIP:
- Save communication costs.
- Free from hassles of maintaining
legacy EPABX equipment.
- The ability to hear the
e-mail (Since IP phone can playback text e-mail messages).
- Use XML applications and
visit select Websites on the IP phone screen.
- The ability to make overseas
Cisco Systems was chosen as
the VoIP technology solutions provider and Professor
B.S. Jaju, Head of the Computer Network Society, The
Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, was appointed
as the consultant.
An ISDN link of 60 channels
at the VoIP gateway router provides the connectivity.
The network has the capacity to support around 1,000
IP phones. NHAI currently uses 50-odd, and these are
provided to top management executives.
Back-up for IP Telephony
An analog EPABX from Siemens
is used as a backup in case the IP Telephony infrastructure
fails. This EPABX can support around 300 users.
"But ever since we have installed
IP Telephony, we have not experienced any performance
outages," informs Kumar.
IP Telephony benefits
NHAI feels that the solution
is easy to manage since it's supported by software.
"We want to develop XML applications on the IP Telephony
platform. These applications will include accessing
websites, and collecting information about toll collections,"
said Kumar. As we develop more applications, it will
add more value, and help us achieve the ROI. And as
we add more users, it will provide true economy of scale."
The Proposed WAN
The proposed WAN will connect
around 60 construction sites and a number of tolling
locations nationwide. Most locations will have optical
fiber backbone connectivity for which NHAI plans to
tie-up with an ISP. "Deploying our own WAN requires
a lot of human resource, time, and revenue. So it's
a better idea to ride the existing infrastructure of
an established ISP," said Kumar.
For areas where there is no
optical fiber connectivity, NHAI plans to use VSATs
and radio links. This will make it a 'hybrid' WAN.
Bandwidth on the WAN
The organization wants to enable
2 Mbps bandwidth on the WAN. In the beginning, the links
will have less capacity, depending on the need. "We
do not want to run bandwidth-intensive applications
like video conferencing. So we plan to deploy low bandwidth
in the beginning. But the WAN should be built to support
growth and scalability," said Kumar.
NHAI is certain that all the
activities of IT-enabling itself will keep providing
the planned benefits, and hopes that the scale of benefits
keeps increasing as months go by.
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The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI)
is responsible for the development, maintenance,
and management of National highways in India.
It's mandate is to construct 13,146 Km of 4/6
lane superior highway in India. This is a part
of the largest highway project in independent
India called the National Highway Development
The company needed a fast and reliable communications
infrastructure at a low cost, to enable coordination
between its Head Office (HO), nationwide road
construction sites, and poll booths.
NHAI deployed a robust LAN at its HO, VoIP solutions
to facilitate communication at the LAN, and plans
to deploy a nationwide WAN.
The WAN helps to transfer information quickly
and reliably between the HO and the construction
offices and polling booths. VoIP at the HO LAN
helps reduce communication costs, reduce management
hassles, and introduce new applications on the