The public sector unit Indian Railways runs the world’s second largest railway network, shuttling around 20 million people a day across 7,800 routes covering 70,000 kilometres of railway tracks. Soon it also wants to enter the data traffic market and create a nationwide Internet backbone.
The Indian Railways is one of the more unusual players in India’s
round-the-corner private Internet service provider (ISP) market. Close to
200 new private ISPs are expected to sprout in India by the year 2000,
according to Dr. Soundra Pandian, director of New Delhi-based AP Institute
of Technology (APIT).
APIT today concluded a three-city series of seminars focusing on Internet
technology and network design for ISPs, in New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.
Attendees included major potential ISPs like the Hindujas, BPL, Punj Lloyd,
RPG, Hughes and Reliance Telecom, as well as smaller players concentrating
on regional or city-specific markets.
India currently has an estimated 400,000 Internet users, but only one
commercial ISP, Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL). The entry of private
ISPs is expected to drive the user base up to 8 million users by year 2002, but a row between the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and the
Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) over regulatory
issues has stalled the entry of private ISPs.
The Bangalore edition of the ISP conference attracted prospective ISPs
based in south India. Most of the 150 organisations who have currently
obtained ISP registration forms from the Department of Telecommunications
are based in Mumbai and New Delhi.
D. Praveen of Vijayawada-based Sunlight Metal Works, in the southern state
of Andhra Pradesh, hopes to help his company branch out into the ISP
business by offering basic Internet services in Vijayawada and neighbouring
cities like Vishakaptanam, Guntur, Nellore and Thirupathi.
“We also plan to include value-added features like Web site design and
hosting for Indian companies, through a tie-up with Madras-based Web
publishing company WebIndia,” Praveen said.
Joy Nandi, South Asia Internet business manager for Bay Networks, said his
company is working with about a dozen potential ISPs in India. “We are also
involved in lobbying activities for Internet rules and regulations,” Nandi
Bay Networks claims to have tie-ups accounting for 80% of the cable
modem market in the world. “We are lobbying the Indian government to allow
cable TV operators to get into the ISP business too,” Nandi added. He is
also involved in lobbying for legislation authorising and protecting
electronic commerce on the Net.
“It will take at least another three to six months before the first private
ISPs will be able to offer Internet access in India,” he predicted.