February 2006

Satellite based e-Government network

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About  the author:
Praveen Sharma is Director, Technical Marketing with Gilat Satellite networks and is looking after India and Asian region. www.gilat.com

The need to empower citizens is paramount and a common objective for all the States of India. Accordingly, the Government of India is actively working to implement the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP). Certainly, Satellite based e-Governance networks can provide excellent solution to make NeGP a success since they are not dependent on geographical parameters and can ably cater the scattered and medium to low traffic areas.

The Government of India has planned a national level  initiative – National e-Governance Plan, NeGP for  increased transparency, efficiency and effectiveness for delivery of citizen services. The nature and scale of e-Governance initiatives thus planned would supposedly reflect the aspiration level of the government in progressing towards a truly welfare state.

Each state is unique in terms of requirement and application and objectives that it wants to achieve by implementing an e-Governance project. However, there is one common objective which all states would like to achieve is ’empowerment’ of common citizen. Significantly enough, this is equally paramount for the all concerned. India is a rural country with 80% population residing in rural areas, and any initiative in launching ‘e-Governance’ should target and aim at total coverage of States so that all the citizens can have equal and fair access to the applications falling under aegis of such a initiative.

Types of users and applications
The e-Governance network shall primarily address two types of users and applications.The users being State Administrations and Village Information Centres (VICs). State Administrations are in fact those users that would be located in the state’s administrative agencies such as District Collectorate, Block office, Police HQ etc. The users in such locations shall involve such applications that are expected to improve the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the administrative machinery. The main applications used by them include Video Conferencing, Voice/telephony, Email, and File transfers.

Village Information Centers (VICs) play an important role in the furtherance of e-Governance activities. The VIC Kiosks shall be the access point for the common man in the network. The various services to be accessed by a villager/citizen from the kiosk include land records, birth/death registration, land/property registration, public distribution system, weather and climatic forecasts, bill payments/tax payments etc., and several other applications.

Apart from the State administrative applications, the network shall also be used for other important applications such as Disaster Management including Flood Management, Emergency situations like landslides, earthquakes, fire, industrial accidents etc.; Tele-education, which plays a vital role in imparting basic education/Adult education/family welfare programs; and, Telemedicine, which promotes and uplift the primary healthcare within the state.

Network design
While various technologies can be looked into for building up the network based on the requirements (both from point of view of network coverage and applications), it is very clear that the success of the network shall be highly dependent on the ‘Ubiquitous coverage’ so that it can reach to a common villager in rural and far-flung sites. The requirements envisage a primarily satellite based connectivity. In summary, satellite networks offer numerous advantages including Ubiquitous Network, Rapid Deployment, High MTBF (Mean Time Between Failure) and low MTTR (Mean Time To Repair), Dynamic sharing of bandwidth, High reliability, and Low cost.

The basic advantage is that of satellite being ubiquitous network in the sense that each and every inch of the land is under the coverage of the network. Information signals can be beamed and received by small earth stations (VSATs), which can be located in virtually any part of the land. The VSAT technology available nowadays has virtually shrunk up the installation time to few minutes.

Once a location of equipment is decided it takes less than an hour to install a VSAT. The major advantage of a VSAT based network is high reliability and MTBF. Since, in VSATs no physical media is involved (unlike terrestrial network) and also the number of components are limited (unlike wireless network which involves base stations, Repeater etc) the reliability is high. In satellite network the sharing of bandwidth is universal i.e. to say that available satellite bandwidth pool is shared by all the nodes in the network (because all nodes fall in the same satellite footprint). This is very important feature as different locations have different loads at different time of the day and hence the terminal needing more bandwidth may borrow bandwidth from lightly loaded terminals. VSAT networks have low cost in terms of say 5-year Total Cost of Ownership model.

Satellite networks are not dependent on geographical parameters and hence have limited number of components in the network. The economics of terrestrial/wireless networks are highly influenced by geographical factors like distance, terrain etc. Hence, satellite based networks offers excellent solution for scattered and medium to low traffic areas.

Network architecture
Keeping in view the requirements as described above it is envisaged that the network sites (Nodes) can be broadly classified into a central location (Hub) and three tiers for remote locations.

The Hub shall be located in state capital or any other location where data centre is located, and shall employ Network Control Centre and act as master control earth station. All the critical components at the hub shall be employed in 1+1 automatic redundant configuration, and shall be operated and manned by technically expert personnel. Hub shall act as gateway between the VSAT network and other networks like Internet/terrestrial/PSTN. It shall also house a data centre that is to include all application servers like e-Governance servers, email servers, intranet servers etc. In case the data centre can’t be located at the hub, it shall be connected to the hub through a back-haul link. Hub shall also house distance learning servers/equipments and telemedicine studios.

For the remote locations three Tiers are proposed for the network organisation purposes that include Tier 1 (State head offices – Police Headquarters, DM’s office, and other important offices in the district), Tier 2 (Village Information Centres) and Tier 3 (Mobile/transportable VSATs to be used for Emergency and disaster management services).

Each state is unique in terms of requirement and application and objectives that it wants to achieve by implementing an e-Governance project. However, there is one common objective which all states would like to achieve is ’empowerment’ of common citizen.

Tier 1- State Administrative Offices: These locations shall be equipped for operating in STAR (VSAT and Hub) and MESH (VSAT to VSAT directly in single hop) configurations. These locations shall be equipped for transmitting Voice, Video and data with State HQ as well as with other Tier 1 locations. This shall enable these sites to establish Video Conferencing sessions with State HQ or other Tier 1 locations in single hop; establish Voice/telephone calls with telephone sessions with State HQ or other Tier 1 locations in single hop; and, transfer data and access servers located at hub or other Tier 1 locations.

Tier 2 – Village Information Centers (VICs): The VICs shall be low cost sites and shall be employed in large numbers to cover the entire state. These locations will primarily act as kiosks for accessing e-Governance applications, Internet and other applications (like weather forecast etc.) from central servers at the hub. These locations shall also be equipped for transmitting voice, video and data to central servers for tele-education and telemedicine applications. The tele-education and telemedicine studios shall be located at the hub or in case they cannot be co-located at the hub they shall be connected with hub via backhaul links. It will be able to receive high speed Multicast data and video stream from the hub, and would be able to establish 384 Kbps videoconference links with the hub and other locations.

Tier 3 – Mobile VSATs: The site should be able to establish high-speed Video Conferencing with the State HQ or other offices located in the network. In order to efficiently use the available satellite bandwidth the network shall operate in bandwidth on demand or DAMA (Demand-Assigned Multiple Access) mode. This shall allow dynamic sharing of the bandwidth within  the network.

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