March 15, 2021: BharatNet Project is the world’s largest rural broadband connectivity programme using optical fibre. It is a flagship mission implemented by Bharat Broadband Network Limited (BBNL) – a special purpose vehicle under the Telecom Ministry and is the Government of India’s ambitious rural internet connectivity programme.
What is the BharatNet Project?
It is a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) set up by the Government of India under the Companies Act, 1956 with an authorised capital of Rs 1, 000 crore.
Initially, it was under the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, which was bifurcated into the Ministry of Communications and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology in July 2016.
At present, it is being implemented by the Department of Telecommunication under the Ministry of Communications.
National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) was launched in October 2011 and was envisaged as an information superhighway through the creation of a robust middle-mile infrastructure for reaching broadband connectivity to Gram Panchayats.
It was renamed the BharatNet Project in 2015. The entire project is being funded by the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF), which was set up for improving telecom services in rural and remote areas of the country.
The objectives of BharatNet Project
- To facilitate the delivery of E-governance, E-health, E-education, E-banking, Internet and other services to rural India.
- To connect all the 2,50,000 gram panchayats in the country and provide 100 Mbps connectivity to all gram panchayats.
- To achieve this, the existing unused fibres (dark fibre) of public sector undertakings (PSUs) (BSNL, Railtel and Power Grid) were utilised and incremental fibre was laid to connect to Gram Panchayats wherever necessary.
- It aims to connect all of India’s households, specifically rural households through demand, affordable high-speed Internet connectivity to fulfill the objectives of the Digital India programme in partnership with the states and the private sector.
- The BharatNet Project proposes broadband connectivity to households under village Panchayats and even to government institutions at the district level.
- It intends to cover all 2.5 lakh Gram Panchayats for the provision of E-governance, E-healthcare, E-Commerce, E-Education, and Public Interest Access services.
- The first phase of the BharatNet Project will be completed in December 2017, providing internet access to 1 lakh Gram Panchayats. So far, 83, 000 Gram Panchayats have been connected.
- The types of equipment for the programme are indigenously designed and are manufactured in India, under the “Make in India” initiative.
- NOFN had not incorporated any revenue model but BharatNet has.
The implementation is to occur in 3 phases.
Provide one lakh gram panchayats with broadband connectivity by laying underground optic fibre cable (OFC) lines by December 2017.
Provide connectivity to all the gram panchayats in the country using an optimal mix of underground fibre, fibre over power lines, radio and satellite media. It is to be completed by March 2019.
From 2019 to 2023, a state-of-the-art, future-proof network, including fibre between districts and blocks, with ring topology to provide redundancy would be created.
The technology being used for this program are illustrated below:
Gigabit passive optical network (GPON) technology at the national level:
Passive optical network architecture brings fibre cabling and digital signals to the homes, using the point-to-multipoint communication design that enables a single optical fibre to serve multiple premises. Design provides higher bandwidth and efficiency due to the bigger variable-length network packets, allowing more efficient packaging of user traffic with segmented frame, offering higher quality of service (QoS) and low latency for delay-sensitive voice and video traffic.
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Optical line terminal at subdistrict block level: OLT device installed at each block (district subdivision) will serve as the BharatNet’s national-level service provider’s endpoint of a passive optical network and perform conversion between the electrical signals used by the service provider’s equipment and the fibre optic signals used by the passive optical network.
Optical fibre cable to each gram panchayat: The connectivity from OLT at subdistrict-block-level to each gram panchayat is provided by the optical fibre point of presence. Optical fibre technology provides high bandwidth, low maintenance and a scalable network but requires time to roll out the physical network. End-to-end encryption is used to ensure the data security in this shared network.
Beam splitters and combiners: The beam splitter (downstream; upstream is called the “combiner”) is an optical device that splits a beam of light in two, thus providing ability to connect multiple gram panchayats along the way to the single optical fibre cable. Use of the “passive” (unpowered) fibre optic splitter reduces the operational cost of equipment compared to the point-to-point technology (WiFi, requires power).
Optical network terminals at gram panchayat level: ONT, also called ONU, are the devices that transmit signals to the customer premises (each gram panchayat in this case) using fibre optic technology in a fibre-to-the-premises system. BharatNet will sign contracts with internet service provider (ISP) telecom companies to set up WiFi hotspots (connected to fibre optic network via ONT), and also to provide optical fibre connections to the individual houses or institutes needing relatively much higher speed dedicated connection.
As throughout requirements of a village, institute, or house increase, they will require dedicated fibre optical connections instead of village-level shared WiFi. Each house or institute with dedicated fibre optical connection will also require its own ONT installed by the service provider, though within the house or institute they can have their own WiFi setup. A Common Service Centre panchayat kiosk for the online government e-services will be provided at each gram panchayat level.
Hotspot (WiFi) at each village-level within the gram panchayat:
Each gram panchayat is connected by the low-maintenance fibre optic technology, and each village under the gram panchayat is connected by a WiFi hotspot tower of up to 15-metre height with a range of 5 to 7 km installed by ISP telecom companies by using short-range 5.48 GHz unused radio frequency. Comparatively easier and faster to deploy higher-maintenance wireless technology, for WiFi Hotspots in each village under the gram panchayat, is used only for the last mile connectivity.
Wi-Fi router and antenna require continuous supply of power, hence an emergency power system is needed during the power blackout, e.g. power inverter with a backup battery that may be recharged by the solar panel. Reliance Jio, Idea Cellular, Airtel and Vodafone have already connected their 4G Base Towers to BharatNet fibre optic OLT to provide last mile wireless coverage.
Connectivity to the individual homes: The Local service providers provide broadband connections to individual homes, offering employment and entrepreneurship opportunities to village youth.