As per the 2013 edition of the State of Broadband report released recently, there are now more than 70 countries where over 50% of the population is online. The report emphasises that broadband internet has become a key tool for social and economic development, and points out an important caveat that 90% of the people in the world’s 49 least developed countries remain totally unconnected.
The Indian government set itself a target of 160 million broadband users by the year 2017 and 600 million by 2020. A quick look at the recent performance indicators published by Trai indicates the following: wire-line broadband subscription stands at a paltry 15 million with a maximum in Maharashtra at about 2.5 million; of these 15 million, 85% are provided through the digital subscriber loop (DSL) technology deployed by the fixed line service providers; wireless internet subscriptions has reached an astonishingly high number of 143 million with a maximum of about 14 million in UP. What is interesting is that while the top 10 states in wire-line broadband subscription accounted for about 80% of the total wire-line broadband in the country, the same set accounts for only 65% of mobile internet subscriptions. The above statistics indicate that mobile internet access is a possible substitute for wire-line broadband service. Going by the existing definition of 256 Kbps downlink speed, most of the mobile internet subscribers that use 3G services might qualify to be broadband subscribers. So, we seem to have almost reached the target set for next year, now itself!
What is the problem then?
Though NTP 2012 has a clause for the grand revision of the definition of broadband from 256 Kbps to 512 Kbps to 2 Mbps by 2015 and thereafter to 100 Mbps, the mobile internet access still crawls. Though Trai is yet to come up with detailed metrics for measurement of quality of service for data and internet services over mobile, the response time and call disconnects do not make it worth browsing content-heavy websites on our mobiles—unless of course we do not have a wire-line broadband service at home, which seems to be the case especially for those who live in suburban areas and less dense locations.
On the other hand, countries are marching ahead with improving broadband penetration levels, which research indicates has a positive correlation with economic development. While most of the European countries have mandated 100 Mbps broadband connections to homes,