RBB owns and operates networks in interior regions of states like Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Bihar and Karnataka. They manage to do this by looking at networks as ‘retail ecologies.’ On their website, they explain that mostly rural areas are subject to partial provisioning of Internet services, typified by the use of singular, non-scalable solutions (for example, VSAT, dongles, mobile devices connectivity) or customer-specific, costly and exclusive Wi-Fi connections (mostly banks and other enterprises capable of affording connectivity).
On the other hand, AirJaldi’s philosophy and business model is based on creating networks that are meant, by design, to reach out to all potential clients at a reasonable price. Each relay is built to reach specific clients; each client is potentially a relay to other clients. They say that the ability to grow organically and quickly respond to demand increases the sustainability of their networks, and enables them to reach a large number of users in rural areas.
Arriving at the right mix
One thing is obvious. Governments need to look at a mix of technologies like fibre-optic cables, mobile networks, satellites and white space to achieve 100 per cent connectivity. As in the case of AirJaldi, the implementation needs to be flexible and capable of growing organically. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. The right mix depends on the distance from base stations, terrain, weather conditions, population density of the region, etc. Solutions must be designed such that these are economically viable and sustainable too.
So, as in any people-oriented effort, technology is only an enabler here too. The technology elements are there, and being developed and improved by the hour. But, the real challenge is to identify and string together the right technologies in a sustainable way. This is especially true for a country like ours, which has too much diversity in everything from terrain and economic status to weather and efficiency of local implementers. Let’s wait and see how deep inside this complex country the Internet can penetrate!
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