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Mumbai: India is in dire need of an updated definition of broadband if it is serious about its efforts to implement digital services like e-governance, smart cities and mobile banking that define its Digital India vision, failing which it runs the danger of not having any broadband whatsoever, if one were to go by the definition of broadband that is being applied in developed countries.

How else does one explain how India continues to be smug with the definition of broadband as equal to, or greater than, 512 kilobits per second (kbps) download speeds at a time when the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has updated its broadband benchmark speeds to 25 mbps for downloads and 3 mbps for uploads?

“Reflecting advances in technology, market offerings by broadband providers and consumer demand...the 4 mbps/1 mbps standard set in 2010 is dated and inadequate for evaluating whether advanced broadband is being deployed to all Americans in a timely way, the FCC found," the US regulator said in its 2015 Broadband Progress Report, which was adopted on 29 January.

According to a 7 January report by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), there were 82.22 million broadband subscribers at the end of November. India’s top five service providers constituted 87% market share of total broadband subscribers in the same period. The service providers are Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) with 18.7 million subscribers, Bharti Airtel Ltd with 18.17 million, Vodafone Services (India) Pvt. Ltd with 15.61 million, Idea Cellular Ltd with 12.26 million and Reliance Communications Ltd with 6.77 million.

It may be noted, though, that wireless subscribers with less than 1MB data usage in a month have not been considered as Internet or broadband subscribers by Reliance Communications and Idea Cellular.

And if the 25 mbps benchmark broadband download speed appears unreasonable consider this.

The third quarter Akamai State of the Internet report, released on 9 January, India was the country with the lowest high broadband adoption rate in the third quarter, at 1.1%. Colombia, which had the lowest adoption rate in the previous quarter, saw a 2.4% quarterly increase and had a high broadband adoption rate just four-hundredths of a per cent higher than India.

Further, while most nine of the 14 surveyed Asia-Pacific countries and regions, in the Akamai report, had average connection speeds above the 4 mbps broadband threshold, India remained the country with the lowest average connection speed in the region at 2 mbps. Only 1.1% of users had download bandwidth speeds of over 10 mbps and a mere 6.9% had a bandwidth speed of over 4 mbps.

The Akamai report classifies high broadband data for connections to Akamai at speeds greater than 10 mbps, and broadband, for connections of 4 mbps or greater.

India’s peak download speed in the third quarter stood at 13.9 mbps, ranking it 113 in the overall list while Hong Kong came first with a 84.6 mbps peak download speed and an average broadband speed of 16.3 mbps. South Korea was ranked first with an average broadband download speed of 25.3 mbps.

Moreover, the Philippines and India were the only two countries within the Asia-Pacific region with broadband adoption rates below 10%, at 8.8% and 6.9% adoption respectively.

Why India continues to define broadband so narrowly, especially given its sharpened focus on Digital India and the need to provide increased services to rural areas?

India’s Internet users will soon cross 300 million. A majority of these will access cyberspace on the mobiles, be they smartphones or tablets, at 3G (third generation) and even 4G (fourth generation) speeds. Unfortunately, most telecom services providers almost halve the download speeds after users reach a pre-defined limit of data download (say 3G or 10GB).

This, in turn, reduces the average broadband speeds, making transactions like mobile banking, etc., very difficult to achieve. With even Indian telcos like Airtel applying for payments bank licences, it is only but fair that broadband speeds are redefined.

Besides, it’s hard to imagine how India will make successful Smart Cities with poor Internet speeds, since much of the success of a Smart City will depend on accessing information instantly from voice, data and videos—and all of this without any broadband hiccups.

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