“We are a diverse country and requirements are area specific and therefore, setting up networks will take time and involves huge cost. Success will come only when people use them effectively. This will significantly transform the country in an unprecedented manner and will create greater opportunities for greater number of people who were denied these opportunities” says Pranav Roach, President, HUGHES Network Systems, India.
How do you see the present state of National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) in terms of delivery of services?
The National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) which includes infrastructural projects such as State Wide Area Networks (SWAN), State Data Centres (SDC), Common Service Centres (CSC), is a huge and ambitious initiative by the Government of India. It is an excellent plan which will bring together different aspects to deliver digital services to citizens across rural India. It is a noteworthy attempt to create a common infrastructure for usage of people who ordinarily will not have direct access to Information Communication Technologies (ICTs). From this point of view, there is little room for finding fault with the initiative. The issue here may be as to what approach to follow.
There are, in fact, various aspects such as the hardware, software, computing, integration of services, connectivity aspects and different ways through which one can develop these aspects. The crux of the matter here is in two things. Firstly, creating infrastructure such as the SWAN, CSC, SDC etc., and providing bandwidth. Creating network and establishing infrastructure is a function of time and money. The second and the most important aspect is utilising the infrastructure in an economically viable manner, which otherwise aborts the investment made. The services must be useful and relevant for people, especially in the rural areas. Therefore, the challenge lies in creating a sustainable eco-system of services which are relevant, affordable and useful to people.
In India about 2/3rd of the population lives in the rural areas i.e. at the block and gram panchayat level. Most of these people are out of the ambit of modern information and communications networks. There are many problems such as availability of food, electricity, drinking water and other basic amenities for decent living in these areas. For these people government services like ration cards, land records, birth and death certificates, access to government schemes etc., are relevant as their lives revolve around these aspects. Therefore, providing such core services by the government creates a belief that government will assist them and that things are transparent. Education is another aspect which can be provided through these initiatives that can impact their livelihood. Thus, NeGP is a noble model objective.
Is the present model of e-Governance in India financially viable? How can it be made a financially viable and successful?
In the present model, services are provided at a minimal price and here it starts to disintegrate as huge CAPEX (Capital Expenditure) is involved in establishing, maintaining and running the infrastructure. Therefore, providing e-Government services exclusively may make the model financially unsustainable. Thus, to make them financially viable, private services should also be provided.
In addition to this tutorials can be given for students aiming for professional courses like engineering and medicine through e-Learning practices at a low cost with high standards, that can cater to the interests of both the industry and government . This training can lead the youth to retail chains, Business Process Outsourcing (BPO’s) etc. Educational training is relevant and can be a enabler. These training programmes can cater to about 200-300 million young Indians in the age group of 15-25 years. We have a good bouquet of services designed to meet the needs of the people and which are affordable to make it a sustainable business model. Both the government and private services are the key for long term viability and financial success of e-Governance.
NeGP is a noteworthy attempt to create a common infrastructure for usage of people who ordinarily will not have direct access to Information Communication Technologies (ICTs). From this point of view, there is little room for finding fault with the initiative. The issue here may be as to what approach to follow
Please tell us about HUGHES broadband solutions to empower government to better serve the people.
We are a managed network and broad band solution provider. Networking is our speciality and we use terrestrial, wireless and satellite technologies. The beauty of satellite solutions is its ubiquity. This ubiquity creates ease in deployment which is critical. Therefore, we can create a site and run it in any part of India within hours. Once we establish the network, we emphasise on delivery of services. These include integrated services such as education, vocational training, e-Commerce tie-ups that are relevant and meaningful to people. In education we provide high end specialised programmes in management, vocational programmes directed at specific requirements such as travel, retail management, BPO and areas where there are opportunities. A person attending these programmes will have high possibility of finding employment. These things will add to their skill sets.
We also intend to provide choice in education at an affordable cost to common people closer to their area of living and encourage participation in greater numbers. Today, we have greater opportunities and therefore, the need for skilled people is on the rise and we are focusing on this area.
What are the various VSAT based services being developed and offered by HUGHES Network Systems in India?
Virtually some or the other aspect of our daily lives is touched by services delivered over VSATs. Banks use them for ATMs, cinemas for downloading movies via satellite, stock exchanges for trading, big corporates, oil companies to connect their petrol pumps, students to access interactive educational content and many others. Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) is essentially a router. It enables voice, data and video to be transmitted and received over a wide area network (WAN). In my view, technological devices that are provided must be made relevant and useful to people. People who are supposed to benefit from VSAT devices in remote areas should be aware of the utility of these devices. In this regard creating awareness regarding utility and various services that can be accessed is pertinent. For this, tie-ups with various service providers like the railways, transport operators and integrating these services to ensure that everybody gets their share are vital aspects. For people the application of any device or service is important than the device or technology.
The beauty of satellite solutions is its ubiquity. This ubiquity creates ease in deployment which is critical. Therefore, we can create a site and run it in any part of India within hours. Once we establish the network, we emphasise on delivery of services.
Through VSAT technology and services, we can create awareness regarding the enabling courses which we provide for better job opportunities. Overall, if we can think out of the box and focus on the application part of technology, creating useful and affordable services, successful results will follow. HUGHES is actively working at the ground level to create awareness regarding the services we provide. The challenge is in creating services which are actually aimed at people in rural areas and we are constantly focusing on this area.
When we launch a product to take it to larger audience we have vans, street plays, pictures to showcase the utility and benefits of these products and services to the people. Here we emphasise on communicating the use and relevance to the people and it is different from the classical marketing approach followed in urban areas. In HUGHES we have a division called HughesNet Fusion aimed at creating an eco-system for delivering services to the under served.
What are the crucial components for realisation of m-Governance in India? Briefly tell us about m-Governance scenario in India.
It is a fact that mobility has done wonders. Mobile phone is a very good voice device. But the current generation is inherently a narrow band standard and is very good for mobile voice. However, when it is loaded with data and video, the existing capacity fails to handle it and becomes difficult to operate. At the theoretical level m-Governance is a very good initiative but, when we look at the practical side we still have to cover a long distance. Mobile devices are designed to handle voice calls and their effectiveness declines when they handle additional services like data and video. Considering the vast size of our country, we have to develop required infrastructure for m-Governance in India along with awareness creation regarding its utility and enhancing the mobile handling capacity.
Total mobile subscriber base in India has increased from 56.88 million in March 2005 to 261.08 million in March 2008. In this light how do you see the future of m-Governance in India?
Though the mobile subscriber base in India increased to around 261 million by March 2008, the mobile network covers about 35% of India’s geographical territory only. A large part of the territory is not covered by any network. The second reality is that when we look at the mobile subscriber base in the rural areas it is about 2-3%. Most of the available mobile networks in India are in and around the urban areas. In our country there are still more than 800 million people who are not connected through mobile. Therefore, m-Governance in India is still a long way.
HUGHES Network Systems leadership spans all aspects of technology products development, standards, satellite network solutions and services. Compared to other market players how competitive are these products and services in Indian market?
Our products and services are viable and suitable on all parameters. Our focus is not only on providing equipment or connectivity but also on providing ‘service.’ We look at it as a holistic service and that is the differentiator.
Share with us your vision for e-Governance in the country for serving the common man.
NeGP in India is a very good initiative. But, the challenge involved in making it a success is huge. I stress that success depends on the delivery of services which are useful, relevant and affordable to people wherever they are. We are a diverse country and requirements are area specific and therefore, setting up networks will take time and involves huge cost. Success will come only when people use them effectively. This will significantly transform the country in an unprecedented manner and will create greater opportunities for greater number of people who were denied these opportunities.