Manu Khera, vice president of mobile broadband at Reliance Communications, India is speaking on in the Mobile broadband track on Day Two of the Broadband World Forum, taking place on the 22nd – 24th October 2013 at the RAI Exhibition and Convention Centre, Amsterdam. Ahead of the show we get his insight into some of the key challenges in deploying broadband in India.
India has one of the lowest percentages of broadband penetration in the world. How can this challenge even begin to be overcome, and what role is Reliance playing in this?
We believe that affordability, relevant applications, content and reach and coverage of quality networks to be the key levers to ramp up broadband penetration in India.
The vision of Reliance is to make available high bandwidth wireless broadband to 1.3 million Indians across urban and rural India at an affordable cost ($2-4 per month). As a dual technology telecom company, we are deploying both EVDO and 3G networks in rural India to ensure a good broadband experience (between 2-21 Mbps). Our benchmark for a good broadband experience is YouTube HD videos playing buffer free on our network.
We work with key stakeholders such as device manufacturers (PCs, laptops, tablets, smartphones), and application/content developers with an aim to make broadband as much a necessity as electricity and water supply in rural India.
You focus on wireless broadband – what are the challenges of providing coverage across a country the scale of India?
Our key challenges in providing coverage in rural India are:
a) Lack of regular power supply for our base stations
b) Low availability of tall structures to host our base stations
c) Low density of human population and broadband access devices.
d) Very low PC/smartphone penetration to ensure viability of the investment
e) Deployment and maintenance of equipment in hilly/ forest terrains.
To what extent does the low average income in the country limit your ability to invest in new technology?
With a per capita monthly income of $100, an average Indian cannot afford to invest in a broadband access device such as a laptop or smartphone and pay monthly broadband access charges that are in line with the more developed countries.
We are therefore very conscious of CAPEX per Mbps and OPEX per MB while making investments in broadband infrastructure. We need to support low ARPU, low yield (realisation per MB) customers, thereby limiting our ability to invest in new technology until it becomes very affordable.
At what stage are your plans for LTE, and again what challenges are you facing introducing it?
We believe it is going to take a few years before LTE becomes viable in India in terms of availability of a wide range of affordable devices . LTE network CAPEX per Mbps and OPEX per MB also need to come down, and that will take some time.
How closely do you work with device manufacturers to bring more low cost smartphones on to the market?
Devices are going to be the most important lever to grow broadband penetration in India. We innovatively bundle our services with devices and offer a much lower total cost of ownership to the end customer by optimising the acquisition costs of the broadband service provider and sales costs of the device manufacturer.
You’re speaking on the subject of M2M. How important is M2M as a revenue opportunity for you over the next two years?
M2M is already an important revenue stream to monetise our investments in mobile broadband networks. Over the next two years, we target M2M to contribute about 20 per cent of our mobile broadband revenue.
What aspect of the Broadband World Forum are you most looking forward to?
I am looking forward to the networking part of BWF to interact with other telcos and understand the best practises in the rest of the globe.