Keeping its focus towards enabling connectivity with the help of satellite communications, Hughes Communications is playing a critical role when it comes to reaching out to the unconnected corners of India.
While participating at the recently held CommunicAsia 2016 in Singapore, Shivaji Chatterjee, Senior Vice President, Hughes Communication India Ltd. speaks with Zia Askari from TelecomDrive.com about the way it is impacting the Digital India and various other initiatives of the government and what are the possibilities in near future.
Today what are some of the big priorities that Hughes has as an organization towards operators and carriers?
So in India, Hughes has a very holistic growth that we are not just a technology company, we are the world’s leading technology company but apart from just doing that, we also provide an end to end service, managed bandwidth service in India.
We set up our service in early 1995 when the liberalization took place of telecom and we were the first data service provider, first VSAT service provider in the country and since then we’ve been providing service to a whole cross segment of different industries all these years.
And if we look at the current priority, our priority always mirrors the priority of the government and of the industry. So the government’s priority in this space you would guess is Digital India, so that has also become our priority.
We participate in a whole variety of ways for Digital India and one of the core elements of Digital India is to make every citizen and every corner of the country digitized and inclusive and that can happen only with satellite connectivity because of the kind of country India is. So we play a very key role in multiple ways so that the centre and state in enabling that.
Apart from that we also have priorities in terms of enabling key objectives of the country. For example banking and financial inclusion is a very key objective and about half of what we do in the country is geared towards financial inclusion. 90% of the ATMs in the country have VSATs.
Now we have – you know Jan Dhan Yojanawhich was to create bank accounts for every adult in India. In the last 20 months, 200 million bank accounts have been opened and that’s largely due to the VSAT connectivity which has been put into these remote and unserved areas.
So that’s really what our priority is and in hope that throughout different segments: whether it’s banking or e-governance, defence, e-learning, digital cinema, manufacturing. We provide the healthcare, you know so you can name the segment, if there is multisite network, connectivity, applications which have to be enabled – we do that.
How do you look at the opportunities which are being opened up with the Smart Cities projects coming up not only in India but we hear a lot of specific governments like Thailand, Malaysia – they are also talking about Smart Cities. So what is your opinion on that opportunity?
It’s great that I think that they are not talking about new cities they are talking of enabling current cities and making them smarter. Just I think last week the Indian government announced 10 sample cities – Puducherry was the flagship project.
Hughes is part of the smart grid forum.
So, definitely from the satellite connectivity point of view, satellite helps connect diverse points. So it may not be that relevant right now with the current technologies to connect within the city but definitely to enable services to the smart cities. And as satellite technology gets enhanced to be the size of a mobile phone and technologies do exist around the world and are coming, I think we will see it playing a big role.
I feel that today Smart Cities is just a vision and the technology pieces are very much in the conception stage. As things come together and I think it’s going to take a few years to come together. At the time I believe satellite technology will really be what wireless is able to do and you know wireless and the internet of things is the key element to the Smart City and that is what satellite will integrate and do and for a country like India it will enable not just Smart Cities but smart states.
Smart interconnection of smart cities. And that what it is about. It’s not just about making cities smart in isolation. It’s about making district smart, the state smart, Smart Cities being interconnected amongst themselves and that is what satellite can do which local technology cannot do. So WiFi is good for a local area but that’s where the scope ends. What we will be able to do is that we will do the local and do that state and that’s how satellite can play a role.
Moving forward when operators are rolling out 4G and 4G advanced kind of network, they are also talking about a lot of WiFi deployment in various parts and pockets of the city. So in that kind of scenario what do you think will be the role of satellite communication?
Yeah so clearly wifi is being deployed because spectrum is scarce and expensive in India so they are looking at it for an offload and you know that is clearly the reason. So in fact, the operators which are talking 4G deployment are talking to us too because again where fibre can’tgo, satellite can go.
Microwave will extend the fibre 1/2/3 ways but now with so many pockets. So we are in touch with the leading operators who are looking to deploy 4G to connect all the, whether it is the hilly states, whether it is the islands, whether it is the pilgrimage places, whether it is the interior. Those all are black out spaces.
No fibre is left behind?
Completely black out. So forget fibre even microwave will go only up to a certain extent. And that’s where satellite backhaul plays a big role and if you can see and look around here there are a lot of solutions to satellite backhaul and that’s really come about. Integrating LTE, being able to understand voice and data and providing that service, creating WiFi backhaul.
Not just for 4G but even if you want to create a smart village. You just put a VSAT there with a wifi connection and that’s it you have a smart village there. So easy to kind of deploy.
So this satellite backhaul, what is the scenario in India. Have you done deployments?
Of course, we’ve done it for Reliance Communications, Vodafone, for Airtel, for Aircel. So they all have satellite backhaul.
How about Reliance Jio?
They don’t have services yet but we are in active discussion with them because the same team which actually did Reliance Communications are running Reliance Jio now and they believe in the power of satellite and I think when their service today is yet to start commercially and you will hear about the satellite will definitely play a key role exactly in the space which I said – remote areas, hilly areas, pilgrimage places, Lakshadweep, Andaman (small islands and all).
So now what kind of growth are you looking at from these areas specifically the satellite backhaul kind of area?
I think with the advent of 3G 4G you will see much more use of satellite now people are earlier backhaul with 2G. Now people are looking at high speed data and connection. BSNL has come up with another 2600 sites of satellite backhaul just 2 months back.
DoT has come up with another 2300 satellite backhaul sites to all the operators. So one is BSNL coming up with an RFP and these are all for north eastern and Assam, and DoT has come up with all the operators and BSNL will be one of the bidders. So it’s very active. If you have to give mobile coverage everywhere, you need to do on satellite.
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