July 2006

Augmenting PURA initiative through cost-effective implementation

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As part of the 2020 Vision and the Next Generation Communication and Information Technology Solutions emerging today to fulfill the IT and communications needs within the PURA initiative context in India, it is pertinent to explore different perspectives from which Architectural Integration and Functional Alignment can take place

PURA (Providing Urban Amenities in Rural Areas) is a strategic initiative that has the potential to empower Rural India and can ensure that India, in its entirety, can participate in economic and social progress in the next 10 to 15 years. One key characteristic of PURA is the 30-60 km of ring road connecting a cluster of villages along with a link to a nearby city. For example, there are more than 100 villages near a place called Dhamal in Kancheepuram, Tamil Nadu, a town that is about 100 kms from Chennai. The proposed PURA initiative would essentially connect these villages around the town of Kancheepuram with a circular ring road (2 lanes in each direction) and would further connect to a link road (or a National Highway) that connects Dhamal to Chennai. The idea is to connect all of rural India with 5000 such projects at a cost of INR500-1500mn (US$10.79-32.37mn) for each project.

Along the lines of providing the physical connectivity, there are also plans to provide network connectivity to this cluster of villages within a 30–60 km range. All major cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta, Chennai, Bangalore etc. already have fiber networks. Therefore, the ideal cost effective implementation of small metro sized networks (50 to 80 km range) that would cover these cluster of villages wireless, would involve Next Generation Wireless Networking technologies (high throughput, high speed 40MBps and low cost) that also leverages existing Internet connecting wire-line implementations such as Cable and Fiber Optic networks.

WiMAX, an IEEE 802.16 standard, has the potential to augment the PURA initiative with ubiquitous coverage in all the 5000 cluster of villages essentially covering the entire nation. It can effectively cover 25,000,000 square kms, which far exceeds India’s total land area of 3,300,000 square kms. Even based on a conservative estimate of 1 implementation for every 5, nearby PURA cluster could potentially cover 5 million square kms, reducing the need to approximately 1000 such implementations instead of 5000.

In India, recently (early 2006) VSNL in conjunction with Aperto Networks has successfully deployed such wireless MAN in 65 cities, with plans to deploy in 200 additional cities by mid 2007.

It is pertinent to understand the pros and cons of WiMAX. These could change over time. The positive aspects of WiMAX are the following: range of 5000 to 9000 square km would easily cover one or more cluster of villages of PURA; implementation process is cost effective; momentum towards WiMAX based 4G in neighbouring nations including Pakistan and Korea; usage of unlicensed spectrum (2.5 GHz and more); potential delivery of Voice, Video and Data over the same Access Network (negates the need for other last mile access networks); offers mobile access as well (laptops, mobile TV etc.); standards based (with embedded patented technologies from firms such as Nortel) and supported by Intel, Nortel, Alcatel etc.; can leverage Open Source software extensively to offer localised services; Technology is alignable with LAN (802.11) and WAN (802.20); good throughput and bandwidth; and, base stations can be Solar Powered (harnessing replenishable resources such as Solar and Air).

The negative aspects of WiMAX are as follows: still requires Network Access Points (NAP) to connect to the Internet (via Cable networks or Fiber Optic NAP in cities); terrain characteristics affect deployment designs and costs as well (hilly regions, dense forest areas etc.); WiMAX deployments are still in TRIAL phases in USA, UK and Korea; requires clients to be WiMAX enabled; and, may require upgrades to 802.20 in later phases.

Working of WiMAX*

In practical terms, WiMAX would operate similar to WiFi but at higher speeds, over greater distances and for a greater number of users. WiMAX could potentially erase the suburban and rural blackout areas that currently have no broadband Internet access because phone and cable companies have not yet run the necessary wires to those remote locations. A WiMAX system consists of two parts — WiMAX tower and WiMAX receiver. A single WiMAX tower can provide coverage to a very large area, as big as 3000 square miles (~8,000 square km). A WiMAX receiver and antenna could be a small box or PCMCIA card, or they could be built into a laptop the way WiFi access is today.

A WiMAX tower station can connect directly to the Internet using a high bandwidth, wired connection (e.g., a T3 line). It can also connect to another WiMAX tower using a line-of-sight, microwave link. This connection to a second tower (often referred to as a backhaul), along with the ability of a single tower to cover up to 3000 square miles, is what allows WiMAX to provide coverage to remote rural areas.

In fact, WiMAX can actually provide two forms of wireless service. There is the non-line-of-sight, WiFi sort of service, where a small antenna on the computer connects to the tower. In this mode, WiMAX uses a lower frequency range — 2 GHz to 11 GHz (similar to WiFi). Lower-wavelength transmissions are not as easily disrupted by physical obstructions; they are better able to diffract, or bend, around obstacles. There is line-of-sight service, where a fixed dish antenna points straight at the WiMAX tower from a rooftop or pole. The line-of-sight connection is stronger and more stable, so it is able to send a lot of data with fewer errors.

Line-of-sight transmissions use higher frequencies, with ranges reaching a possible 66 GHz. At higher frequencies, there is less interference and lots more bandwidth.

WiFi-style access would be limited to a 4- 6 mile radius (perhaps 25 square miles or 65 square km of coverage, which is similar in range to a cell-phone zone). Through the stronger line-of-sight antennas, the WiMAX transmitting station would send data to WiMAX-enabled computers or routers set up within the transmitter’s 30-mile radius (2800 square miles or 9300 square km of coverage). This is what allows WiMAX to achieve its maximum range.

The final step in the area network scale is the Global Area Network (GAN). The proposal for GAN is IEEE 802.20. A true GAN would work a lot like today’s cell phone networks, with users able to travel across the country and still have access to the network the whole time. This network would have enough bandwidth to offer Internet access comparable to cable modem service, but it would be accessible to mobile, always-connected devices like laptops or next-generation cell phones.

National WiMAX deployment

The requirements for the deployment of a National WiMAX includes cooperation between IT, Telecom and Government organisations for multiple pilots — between 4 or 5 in potential locations in the North, South, West, East and Central India, closer to major cities. For example, one Pilot could involve IBM and Erricson, another with Sun Microsystems and Alcatel, and another with HP and Nortel etc., in conjunction with carriers in India such as Reliance, Bharti, VSNL, Tata etc.; Common Infrastructure SW Services (open source) per cluster of villages — customised with location specific information, entertainment, education, news etc. (based on requirements captured from local regions). For example, one region might have a heavy concentration of cotton production and clothing manufacturing, and their specific needs have to be met in terms of information services; tie-up and partnership with engineering and science schools in rural locations per cluster of villages, for facilities and volunteers (offering internship opportunities); assessment of ongoing operations and maintenance costs based on the 5 Pilots (OA&M requirements documentation); assessment of hardware and software costs and requirements based on the 5 Pilots (web servers, application servers, security requirements, and more); assessment of networking requirements and costs between W-MAN and NAP’s located in cities (T1, T3, fiber link etc.); assessment of administrative staff requirements and cost of such human resources to augment network deploy-ments per location, based on Pilots; ass- essment of the requirements of connecti-vity to India’s Internet backbone; vendor participation and funding for trials (in terms of network equipment, hardware and software tools) with assistance from the Indian Government and Educational institutions (approx. US$2.5mn for 5 trials); accurate estimates of costs of imple-menting and maintaining; and, defined set of implementable security functions.

High Level Conceptual Architecture

India has a total of 3.3 million square kilometres of land area that requires network coverage. Roughly, 5000 square kilometres can be covered with one WiMAX deployment at rough cost of US$0.5mn. This would require about 750 to 1000 deployments (of WiMAX MAN’s) to cover all of India’s rural areas. Therefore, a conservative estimate is US$500mn to cover all the 5000 PURA locations. Such implementation should take into account and leverage existing infrastructure such as building (engineering colleges), existing cell towers, open-source software, student and volunteer workers, gifts and grants from Fortune 100 tech companies etc., and strive for reducing the overall cost of implementation and maintenance in order to offer free network access to the masses.

As part of the Pilot phase and feasibility analysis, a thorough analysis of the demographics and distribution of villages around towns and cities needs to be captured and understood. The work being accomplished as part of the highway infrastructure and PURA ring roads can be reused as well. These characteristics (demographics, population distribution, village clusters, town and city locations etc.) along with terrain data, logistics for solar energy and the availability of the internet backbone will determine the exact number and locations of the WiMAX base station deployments around the nation. However majority of this deployment architecture can be determined based on what is being learnt from the 5 pilots.

A phased approach beyond the 5 pilots could potentially begin with increments of 25 to 100 deployments per quarter, completing the full rollout within a span of 10 to 16 quarters (2.5 to 4 years).

This initiative in conjunction with the PURA initiatives must be treated as a New Entrant ISP covering rural areas (non competitive due to its reach to remote areas where ISP’s do not exist) and offering connectivity for free – fixed and mobile. However as an ISP this venture could potentially generate revenue from Local Service Providers offering valued added applications including interactive games, video conferencing, VoIP telephony, instant messaging, streaming media etc., and to enterprises that offer there services to these remote locations. Revenues that could potentially be used for operations, administration and maintenance costs, in the long run.

Given the background and objectives of PURA and the high level visionary leadership offered by India’s leaders such as President Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam and  Dr. PV Indiresan, the same spirit should be applied to this National Wireless Network — for  the People (the rural population of India) and by the People (volunteers, organizations, NRI’s and government agencies) — to ensure India’s supremacy from all perspectives — social, economic and cultural by 2020

One key factor that needs to be noted is the fact that a WiMAX deployment only offers Access Networks across rural India. However, there are basic services that would be required for such large-scale deployments as well as connectivity to service networks via a core network. Such services include primarily AAA (authentication, authorization and auditing) services, OSS and Billing — if revenue generating services are offered such as content services, or if service and content providers are charged for the reach of their services. However, these services are to be augmented with localized services as well, based on local regional requirements in terms of information services, content etc.

Based on this solution architecture, each deployment of a MAN (1000 such deployments can be replicas of the few that gets tested, first), would include Base Station, Service Network Gateway, Redundant AAA Servers (highly distributed identity systems), Redundant OSS/B Servers (Open Source Linux based), Basic Local Service Servers (web, news, application servers), switching gear for connectivity to main link to the backbone, and WiMAX enabled terminals to test.

Strategic Benefits

The long term strategic benefits include direct employment generated by the 1000 plus deployments in terms of operations, administration and maintenance staff; direct employment generated by the 1000 plus deployments in terms of managing the links to local service providers (e.g., local tourism and availability of hotel rooms, availability of specialist doctors and treatment centres); access to all the information resources that the Internet has to offer (from online education to school going children to online Bachelors and Masters degrees); access to a participative Internet — sharing wedding albums to posting Blogs on subjects of interest; access to a collaborative Internet – sharing knowledge – virtual events etc. For example, online tutoring over the Internet for a world of children needing affordable tutoring; promoting indigenous solutions to a global market. For example, farmers can promote a specialised fruit juice (only available in India) that acts as a boost to the human immunity system (taps into the massive Ayurvedic product base in India); empowers local folks with local and global information; indirect employment generated via augmenting effects; industries in rural areas leveraging the MAN for disseminating sensory data (from sprinkler systems to electronic goods — all generate sensory data throughout the manufacturing and supply chain management processes); travel and tourism in rural areas benefiting from high speed connectivity; transportation and logistics benefiting from high speed connectivity; increase in telecommuting due to reach of the access network; benefits for the old aged and handicapped in terms of services offered via the access network; communication possibilities during natural disasters; emergency communication possibilities in rural locations; live webcast of  India’s major events (cultural and social) from and to rural locations; more effective participation of rural India with a global community for productive purposes; stimulates next generation network services and business models around these services (location based, presence based, identity enabled, etc.); and more.

 Conclusion

India has this opportunity to leapfrog other developed nations in terms of skipping major 2G, 3G and 3.5G deployments and laying the foundation for a 4G public network directly at a fraction of the cost when compared to traditional 3G networks. The specific technology offered by WiMAX (802.16 protocol) and OFDM (orthogonal frequency division multi-plexing) and its respective reach is well suited with the PURA concept.

Leveraging programs from leading vendors such as Intel, Nortel and many others, India can potentially trial multiple implementations of the WiMAX standards based on products recommended by the WiMAX Forum. Also, given the background and objectives of PURA and the high level visionary leadership offered by India’s leaders such as President Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam and  Dr. PV Indiresan, the same spirit should be applied to this National Wireless Network — for  the people (the rural population of India) and by the people (volunteers, organizations, NRI’s and government agencies) — to ensure India’s supremacy from all perspectives- social, economic and cultural by 2020.

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