Volume 11, No. 1, April 2001
Ė Crossing infinite hurdles
Though the phrase "Developing low cost ICTs" has become a worn out cliche, the road towards developing appropriate technologies is not always smooth. The following story on the telecommunications last mile access technology developed by the tenet group of the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, Chennai illustrates that it takes much more than a good technology for an appropriate technology to be adopted.
An analysis of the cost of providing telecommunication connectivity will indicate that the bulk of the cost incurred is towards providing the last mile component i.e. the cost of connecting the subscriber to the nearest telephone exchange (central office). The tenet group in its mission to increase the tele density in India concentrates on reducing the cost of the last mile component. The tenet group has developed a variety of low cost last mile technologies based on the CorDECT standards. The tenet group has managed to bring down the total cost of telephone connection from Indian Rupees 40000 to Indian Rupees 18000. The tenet group faced many hurdles right from its initial stages, the important amongst which are listed.
1) The frequency indicated for design by the office which allocates spectrum in India was used by the defense forces, thus when the system was developed it could not be tested in the field for a very long time. It required the intervention of the scientific advisor to the defense minister to release the spectrum so the system could be tested.
2) According to the purchase manual of the Government owned largest telecom operator in India, any technology to be adopted should have a threshold installed working capacity. This clause naturally excluded any new technology, however cost efficient. The purchases made by the operator for equipment similar to the ones developed by tenet have been at a significantly higher cost.
3) The entry of private operators didnít change the fortunes of the CorDECT technology either. The private operators preferred equipment suppliers who could provide vendor financing.
The tenet group overcame these hurdles by installing the technology in many countries outside India to gain acceptance in India. To accelerate the deployment in rural areas which is a low priority area for the Government owned operator and avoided by the private telephone service providers, the tenet has started providing telephone services deploying its technologies. The services are being provided based on a unique business model of local entrepreneurs in rural areas investing in rolling out the telecom network in a limited area. The success of the model will depend on the low cost structure of the local entrepreneur. To facilitate this model, tenet has formed an organization called n-Logue, which will provide assistance and support to local entrepreneurs. Currently this mode of roll out is operational in four districts in India and likely to increase in the coming months.
This story illustrates the inherent struggle in gaining acceptance for appropriate technologies. If the technology developers had given up, a cheap communication solution would have been lost forever.