Telecom: RailTel on an ambitious track

CIOL Bureau
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Sudarshana Banerjee

NEW DELHI: RailTel Corporation, a 100 percent subsidiary under the Ministry of Railways, was set up in 2002 to handle the captive business generated by the Indian Railways. From that, the logical step ahead was leasing its existing infrastructure to telcos. It is now gearing itself up to be a major player in the telecom sector itself.

To begin with, last month it had appointed KPMG to work out a business viability model. Secondly, it is applying for a NLD license itself (which means taking BSNL, one of its prime customers head on). Thirdly, it is planning to offer Internet and related services in every nook and corner of the country. And its proposition is simple — exploit the reach of the Indian Railways to earn additional revenue at incremental investment points.

RailTel plans to build high speed OFC based network using DWDM/SDH technologies on 37,000 route kms in a phased manner by March 31, 2005. It has already started completing the missing links for connecting the 4 metros, viz. Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, & Chennai as well as Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Pune, and Bangalore.

The company expects to complete phase one of its OFC based backbone covering 15,000 route kms soon. Another 14,000 route kms would be completed by March 31, 2004 and the remaining 12,000 route kms by March 31, 2005.

As railways communication requires dropping of channels at each station, bandwidth would be freely available at each station. The railways would be consuming an estimated two-eight MBPS out of the available 155 MBPS and the remaining capacity can be used to attain commercial ends. like the Internet kiosks at railway stations.

By the first quarter of this new financial year, RailTel would be launching its pilot run for `Internet on the train' project, between Delhi and Agra. "We used a trolley to test run Internet on the tracks in Faridabad, and it was successful," Shailesh Tiwari, DGM, IRSSE, RailTel informed. "Once the pilot is through, we can offer Internet connectivity at each and every railway station. In fact a radius of upto 16 km from the stations can be connected by us," he added. The OFC cable lines would be covering more than 3,500 railway stations, where minimum STM-1 bandwidth would be available. The STM equipment is equipped with Ethernet interfaces and thereby high speed Internet bandwidth can be made available at each station.

"Trains will also have call booths and Internet kiosks, whereby the passengers can avail the services by using pre-paid cards," said Tiwari. "However the projects are still at a conceptual stage, and the exact modalities like the denomination of the cards and the distribution of the same are still being worked out," he summed up.

Yet another wannabe giant in an overcrowded playing field, or yet another PSU success story, only time and implementation can tell.