In the past 65 years, cable has emerged from a fledgling novelty for a handful of households to the nation’s preeminent provider of digital television, movies and state-of-the-art broadband Internet service available to millions of Indians
Today, thanks to broadband cable and other breakthroughs, the technological landscape is unrecognizable compared with even a few years ago. Consumers now enjoy video content and Internet access from multiple services, multiple service providers and on multiple devices. They can go online anytime, anywhere with more options and opportunities than ever and arrival of the new millennium brought with it hopes and plans for acceleration of advanced services over cable’s broadband networks. As the new millennium got under way, cable companies began pilot testing video services that could change the way people watch television. Among these: video on demand, subscription video on demand, and interactive TV. The industry was proceeding cautiously in these arenas, because the cost of upgrading customer-premise equipment for compatibility with these services was substantial and required new business models that were both expansive and expensive.
Indian Railways is all set to become your neighbourhood cable, video and broadband service provider. RailTel Corporation of India Ltd – the Telecom PSU arm of Indian Railways would soon take the project nationwide, which till now was tested in different states successfully.
RailTel, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Railways, in 2013 began its project on a pilot basis to provide broadband and content to households particularly in remote areas in association with cable operators and other access network providers, by utilizing their last mile.
The project, now called RailWire, has not moved much since, being restricted to just about 30,000 households in southern states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh.
“We are now looking at going to other regions and looking for partners who will provide the last-mile connectivity,” RailTel Chairman and Managing Director R K Bahuguna said.
RailTel would be eyeing mostly the non-metro areas where reaching out to households is not exactly a profitable proposition for many of the MSOs (Multi-System Operators), he said. RailTel was formed in 2000 to commercially exploit the Optical Fibre Network laid along railway tracks, which then covered 47000 route kilometres.
“As of now we have laid OFC network of 47,000 km and within a year’s time we would reach 50,000-km mark,” Bahuguna said. Leveraging this network, RailTel provides services like connectivity to government departments and undertakings. It connects some remote mines of Coal India, provides networks like National Knowledge Network connecting IITs, IIMs. Banks and other research establishments, offers services to telecom operators as well in the short haul and long haul distances, and also provides services like telecom tower collocations.
RailTel’s revenue in the last fiscal was Rs 550 crore, and around 10% of it came from parent Indian Railways. Most of RailTel’s services till now are on an enterprise level. Its household broadband service would give it a retail face. But challenges lie ahead as the market is highly competitive, which makes entry into metros restrictive as such markets are already being catered to by the Multi-System Operators or MSOs.
In cities, RailTel plans to provide high-speed 10 mbps broadband services with the help of the MSOs who have the access network, he said.
These apart, RailTel is also banking on its recently launched HD video-conferencing service, called Telepresence in partnership with Cisco, offering corporates and government bodies to hold virtual meetings on a rental basis without having to invest in hardware or connections.