During the last six months, 12,000 gram panchayats have been connected with VSATs and trial runs have already begun. All these centres will be able to access the Internet, use the video conference facilities and also talk with each other.
What is even more interesting is the way Gujarat has structured the entire deal.
The project cost is Rs110 crore. Of this, around Rs60 crore has gone towards, purchase of equipment—each VSAT costing around Rs56,000, which does appear to be a bit on the higher side.
The rest of the money has been kept aside for bandwidth and maintenance for a period of five years. To ensure that adequate bandwidth is available, the state government has booked three transponders from the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro). Thus, the network will have almost 120mbps (megabits per second) of bandwidth 24x7 for five years.
Now the state plans setting up another 4,000 VSATs for disseminating education. Instead of adopting a bureaucratic approach towards what must be taught, it has selected the Aga Khan Trust to recommend to it the subjects and the modalities of what should be taught and for how long. The trust has yet to submit its report.
The state is also planning to use this VSAT network as part of its plans for disaster management because, based on the findings of an IAS officer, Sarosh Jha, in Orissa, the only communication systems that work when there is a flood or an earthquake are VSATs.
Isn’t it time mainstream media began talking about this?
From airports to airwaves?
The Airports Authority of India (AAI) might soon become a major telecom player in partnership with Isro. This is because both these players are now planning to get into the business of satellite communications.
Most satellite-based communications for ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore, as well as between other licensed parties, are usually through Inmarsat Plc. or Iridium Satellite Llc. Earlier, the only player in this market was Inmarsat, but when latter launched its services, and then collapsed, and is now being resurrected, the market could see the first stirrings of competition.
In India, Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd (VSNL) is a licensed reseller for the services Inmarsat offers, though Indian ships (after registering with VSNL) are free to purchase their bandwidth and service requirements from other licensed resellers (such as Singapore Telecommunications Ltd among others). Normal tariffs have been close Rs223 per minute—though rates vary for data services and voice services.
Not surprisingly, anticipating AAI’s entry, VSNL slashed its rates from an average of Rs250 per minute to less than Rs100 per minute in December. The AAI-ISRO venture is christened Gagan (GPS-aided geo-stationary augmented navigation system), and this service will first be used for aircraft. However, it will soon be expanded to cover other services as well. Significantly, with the launch of Gagan, India becomes the fourth player in the world in the business of satellite communications. The other three that have already introduced this technology are the US, Europe and Japan. Even China is some distance away before it can launch such services of its own. The technical demonstration of this service is reported to have been quite successful, and commercial services are likely to be introduced before 2010.
Something strange has been going on at Indiabulls Group. Even as current business operations have not fully stabilized (Mint reported on 6 September that its retail push had run into big losses), there is news that it has managed to land some impressive coal reserves for power generation.
In fact, considering the equity stake that Lakshmi Mittal has reportedly taken up in Indiabulls units, and also considering his desire to import coal for his ArcelorMittal steel plants from India, one wonders if the allocation of the coal reserves could have any connection? And could that also explain why Mittal has been lobbying hard for iron ore reserves in India?
R.N. Bhaskar runs a company with significant interests in distance learning and examination certification, and writes on corporate and business policy issues. In this weekly column, he will offer a very opinionated point of view on the goings on in Indian businesses. Your comments and suggestions are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org