`Our capacity is enormous'

Print edition : November 05, 2004

V. SRIDHAR

Interview with K. Balakrishnan, Chief General Manager, BSNL Southern Telecom Region.

K. Balakrishnan took over as Chief General Manager (CGM), BSNL Southern Telecom Region (STR) in February 2004. An officer of the Indian Telecommunication Service, he has worked in various capacities at Bangalore, Ernakulam, Hyderabad and other major centres, before he assumed charge as CGM here. He was Director, Transmission Planning and Spectrum Management in the DoT Headquarters at New Delhi for five years before he assumed charge as General Manager, Development, in the Karnataka Telecom Circle in 1998. Excerpts from an interview he gave V. Sridhar:

What are the functions of the STR?

Our main function is as the national and international long distance service provider for BSNL in southern India. We also provide bandwidth to service providers of all hues, including BSNL. We provide bandwidth to all telecom operators, whether they are basic service providers, Internet Service Providers, or national and international long distance service providers. This is our core function.

Geographically, the STR comprises all the four States in the south and the Union Territory of Pondicherry. We have assets of Rs.2,000 crores and a highly talented workforce of 3,200. We cover three segments. First, we have about 52,000 route kilometres (RKM) of optical fibre systems, about 12,500 RKM of microwave systems, and seven satellite earth stations, which are mostly in the Lakshwadeep islands. This comprises our transmission segment. Secondly, with respect to switching systems, we have about 0.5 million circuits, 12 big Trunk Automated Exchanges (TAX) located at the five main centres - Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Ernakulam and Coimbatore. Third, on the international side, we have the India-Sri Lanka microwave link, which is maintained by us. We are also carriers to Italy and Canada.

Whatever the content - whether someone is talking on the phone, or browsing the Internet - we are involved in switching and transporting it. These are our main functions.

Is there competition in the bandwidth-providing business?

There is competition in this field. There are two aspects to this. There are 788 taluks in the four States. We have reached optic fibre and microwave to all these taluks. Moreover, there are 8,500 exchanges, many of which go below the taluk level. Each taluk has about 10-12 exchanges. Seventy five per cent of these exchanges are also connected by fibre now. In effect, fibre links every nook and corner of these States. You can imagine the spread of fibre that we have vis-a-vis any of our competitors. Of course, no doubt the big private operators have established bandwidth capacities between major cities, but they have concentrated only on the cities. Suppose you have a business that is spread across the country. We are in a position to provide bandwidth to such a company. No private operator can match our spread and depth in the near future. Private basic telecom service providers have more or less restricted themselves to the district headquarters. We, on the other hand, have a much bigger mandate, to take telecom everywhere. Their operations are restricted geographically and in terms of capacity. Our capacity is enormous, in comparison.

You said you have connected taluks with fibre. What is the kind of traffic you hope to see in such segments?

Today, every taluk has a minimum capacity of about 30,000 lines. Their demand for STD/ISD services will justify a pair of fibre and a system. A system can provide for traffic flowing at rates ranging from 64 mega bits per second (mbps) to 128 mbps. It only involves changing the terminals; the fibre remains the same. The systems do not use much power - about 300-400 watts at the most - and they do not need air-conditioning.

This implies that an enormous investment has been made in infrastructure with a plan to meet the needs in the future.

In fact, by laying fibre, we have already met decades of demand.

Will this have significance for broadband services?

Absolutely. We are providing bandwidth and dark fibre for BSNL's plans for providing broadband services in 71 cities and towns.

Do you have any interaction with customers at all?

We deal with only two categories of customers. The private operators come to us because they want a point of inter-connection with our switching centres. All operators connect to our switches. We also deal with leased circuit customers, who have countrywide networks. They do not provide services to others, but they have established networks for their own use. We do not deal with retail customers. You could say we are wholesale dealers of bandwidth, circuits, ports and switches.

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