As the government's rural broadband project is facing long delays, telecom PSU BSNL is testing an alternative WiFi-based network to connect about 1 lakh village panchayats in a year with high-speed Internet.
"The process of laying fibre network calls for huge amount of physical labour. We have started a pilot to test broadband connectivity to village panchayats using WiFi network. With this we are hopeful of connecting about 1 lakh village panchayats in a year," BSNL Chairman and Managing Director Anupam Shrivastava told PTI.
The state-run firm is testing sustainability of technology in three villages in Alwar district of Rajasthan. "We have written to the Department of Telecom about this project and looking for support of USO fund for it. Once we get the approval, we will start process for commercial deployment," Shrivastava said.
Under the project, a wireless network over six kilometres has been set up connecting WiFi towers in three villages -- Karenda, Phalsa and Bahadri -- with BSNL's exchange in Bhiwadi. About 500 test connections have been provided to various users, including schools.
A domestic telecom equipment maker firm, Vihaan Networks, is implementing the pilot project for BSNL. "Government is exploring best possible technological options to expedite the implementation of National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN). With this WiFi-based technology, we are able to deliver benefits of broadband in villages where there is no connectivity," Vihaan Networks Chairman Rajiv Mehrotra said.
The government had approved NOFN project worth around Rs 20,100 crore in 2011 for facilitating at least 100 megabit per second (Mbps) bandwidth in all the estimated 2.5 lakh gram panchayats (GPs). The project is being handled by a special purpose vehicle under the Telecom Ministry which has distributed work to three central pubic sector units -- BSNL, Railtel and Powergrid.
The project was to be completed by 2013 but has missed several deadlines. The NDA government, which came in power in May 2014, had planned to connect 50,000 GPs by March 2015, another 1 lakh by March 2016 and rest of the one lakh by December 2016. However, it now expects to complete roll out by 2018 and connect only 1 lakh panchayats with broadband by end of this year.