Broadband: the promise and the potential
more Indian organisations getting access to broadband connectivity, there are
a number of ways that service providers can benefit by offering new services
aimed at corporates and other potential consumers. by Chandra Kopparapu.
Broadband Internet access now has become a significant barometer
of the level of infrastructure in an area or even in a country much like roads,
telephones, and healthcare. As the Internet transforms the way we do business,
and the way we communicate or even live, the need for high-speed and reliable
Internet access is vital. Infrastructure development that includes low-cost
and reliable broadband Internet access has the powerful ability to transform
the regional economy by helping job growth in IT and related sectors.
While there is no common universal definition, Internet access
speeds of 256 Kbps or more are considered as broadband. The true potential of
the Internet can only be realised when we have a significant mass of population
connected over broadband that offers high-speed, always-on, reliable Internet
access at affordable prices. This wired population in turn triggers businesses
and government to offer e-services over the Internet. More services over the
Internet in turn attract more people to get broadband for ease of use and convenience.
There are many ways to offer broadband services, and two
of the most popular technologies for broadband internationally are Cable and
DSL. Cable broadband carries Internet data using the co-axial cable link currently
used for cable TV signals in homes or businesses. DSL or Digital Subscriber
Line technology uses telephone lines to carry the Internet data.
In addition to these two, there are many other technologies
such as Fibre to the Home (FTTH) used in dense metropolitan areas. Because laying
fibre all the way to the home or business can be expensive. This technology
is often used in conjunction with other last mile technologies such as DSL or
Then we have the various wireless technologies to connect
those parts of the world where its difficult or expensive to lay cables.
Emergence of new concepts like Metro Ethernet Networks have made it cost-effective
to use 1-Gigabit and 10-Gigabit Ethernet over dark fibre in metropolitan areas
while using the fibre or DSL-based connectivity in the last mile.
By dividing the approximately 1 MHz bandwidth afforded by
the copper twisted pair already connected to most premises for telephones into
a large number of sub-channels, Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL), a
modem technology, converts existing twisted-pair telephone lines into access
paths for multimedia and high-speed data communications. ADSL can provide downstream
data transmission rates up to 6.144 Mbps and upstream transmission rates of
around 600 kbps, depending on how the connection is configured. Unfortunately,
data transmission performance reduces with increases in the distance over which
the information is transmitted.
The number of broadband users worldwide is estimated to be
more than 300 million, with an estimated 115 million DSL subscribers worldwide
by early June 2005. While cable leads DSL overall in the world, DSLs growth
rates are higher, and its estimated that DSL might catch up or even overtake
cable in the near future. But there are many newer technologies that may also
change the landscape and alter this race.
There are many applications emerging as the killer-apps for
the broadband Internet. E-mail, of course, is the most popular, followed by
applications such as chat, and more recently voice and video over Internet.
As the quality of broadband Internet services improves in both latency and bandwidth,
voice over IP becomes an excellent reason to justify the cost of broadband.
In the United States, there are quite a few service providers
offering unlimited calling all over the USA and Canada for a flat fee of $25
to $40. Even traditional phone companies in the USA now are offering such services
to protect their customer base. In India, long-distance calling over Internet
is used, but suffers from poor voice quality due to the lack of widespread broadband
Rapid growth in mobile phones and declining tariffs for long-distance
phone calls have somewhat alleviated the pain. Nevertheless, voice over IP,
and video conferencing over IP with the help of broadband can help connect not
only families across the continents, but also foster better communication in
An emerging application
TV is an emerging application that offers DVD-quality television over the Internet
to homes allowing service providers to bundle Internet service along with Cable
TV channels which can become a killer-app in India, given the rapid deployment
of cable TV infrastructure in India over the last 15 years.
Remote learning by using Video over IP can immensely benefit
how schools operate and extend their reach to remote villages. Even in the developed
countries such as the United States, school districts find it valuable to network
their campuses together. Clark County School District, the fifth largest school
district in United States, built a metropolitan area network using Gigabit Ethernet
over dark fibre to link all of their school campuses together.
This high speed network enables teachers from different schools
to collaborate, and also to offer special services to schools, inexpensively.
For example, a Spanish teacher in one school can now teach Spanish to students
at multiple schools using Video over IP. A school can offer a variety of language
classes or other subjects by leveraging teachers at other schools.
The service provider
As the usage of broadband grows, Internet service providers
must face the challenge of scaling their backbone networks to increase the overall
bandwidth, yet keeping the costs down. New technologies such as 10-Gigabit Ethernet
make it possible for service providers to scale the Internet backbone as well
as regional metropolitan area networks at less than one-tenth the cost of legacy
technologies like SONET/SDH or ATM.
As broadband services become available all over the country,
enterprises and government need to rethink their network strategy to take advantage
of the cost-effective bandwidth and Internet connectivity in order to improve
Instead of legacy technologies like Frame Relay and T1/E1,
enterprises can use broadband Internet or metro Ethernet connectivity to get
higher bandwidth at much cheaper prices cutting connectivity charges considerably.
By using Virtual Private Networks, enterprises can connect
all the branch offices to the head office in a cost-effective way by using secure
tunnelling technologies over public networks. Service providers using Metro
Ethernet networks or Multi Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) based networks can
provide secure virtual circuit connection services over Ethernet networks to
offer the benefits of traditional frame relay connections, but much higher bandwidth
at a lower cost.
While the advent of the Internet has forever changed our
world, the true potential of Internet and its impact on the common mans
life will only be realised if inexpensive, reliable, and high-speed broadband
service is available to most of the population.
With most service providers including the all-pervasive BSNL
rolling out DSL in India, broadband is set to become more accessible and affordable,
and promises to unleash a profound impact on the Indian economy as well as the
average Indians life.
The author is the Vice-president for Strategic Marketing
& Business Development, Foundry Networks.