Hellocalling anywhere

C-DOT is transforming the way rural India communicates

By G B Meemamsi
Last Updated: Sunday 28 June 2015

-- (Credit: T C Malhotra /CSE)WE WERE in Bombay last Christmas, visiting the son of a close family friend. It was his first homecoming after 7 years of domicile abroad. "Do you notice any change in India?" my wife asked him. "Not much. Nothing has changed, except one thing," he said, "I have just returned from Goa where I had motored down with a couple of my friends from Hong Kong. On the way, we came across a number of villages with a familiar signboard: You can make STD/ISD calls from here. We stopped at 4 of these villages to make calls to our Hong Kong office. We were stunned to raise our office loud and clear on the first attempt! What a difference from my experience in China. During my recent visit to Beijing, I not only had to dial a number of times but had to shout to get across. This certainly is nothing short of a revolution in Indian telecom!"

Good communication networks between rural and urban areas hardly exist in the developing world, where two-thirds of the population lives in villages. The main obstacle to this has been high-cost telecom equipment, hostile environments of temperature, humidity, dust, unreliable power supplies and inaccessibility by normal mode of transport. Also, developing countries are totally dependent on the technology from the industrialised countries, little of which is directed towards the needs of the developing world.

In India, the telecom revolution has been possible due to the Rural Automatic Exchange (RAX) technology developed by the Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT). Before the availability RAX, Indian villages were served by electromechanical exchanges and the public call offices installed in the post offices. But the service was very unreliable. Besides, one had to wait for 3 to 4 hours to get a trunk call. In the case of any fault in the exchange, service was not available for days together as it required a skilled technician to repair the fault. The breakdown of open-wire lines during the rainy season also tended to disrupt the service.

World on the wire
Compared to this, RAX provides worldwide automatic dialling by direct connection to the Trunk Automatic Exchange. The PCOs connected to RAX can, therefore, provide for STD and ISD facilities. RAX does not require any skilled maintenance and in the case of a fault, it automatically re-configures itself with a redundant duplicate part. The only maintenance effort required is to take out the faulty circuit board and replace it with a good one. The faulty card is sent to a centralised repair centre. RAX does not require air-conditioning and because of the low power consumption, it can work on stand-by batteries even during long periods of power failure. It can be connected to the trunk network even over radio and satellite links.

RAX has been a boon to villagers, both economically and socially. It helps them to know market prices both for buying their requirements and selling their produce in the nearby district markets. A villager can now speak to a doctor, and call for an ambulance from the district town during an emergency or accident. During dacoities and land disputes, the police can be easily contacted. Similarly, villagers can now get in touch with government agencies for relief during natural calamities.

During 1993-94, C-DOT installed 25 RAXs a day. On March 31, 1994, there were over 12,500 RAXs in the country, serving over 1 million lines. C-DOT has transferred the technology to nearly 35 manufacturers spread over the private, public and joint sectors. The total turnover from these manufacturers has been over Rs 3,800 million as of March 31, 1994. Even the new telecom policy encourages indigenous industry so that it can meet the national demand and compete globally.

India now has a world-class, cost-effective telecom solution to transform the economic and social life of villages in the developing world. The process of globalising the technology has already begun with shipments to Vietnam, Russia, Nigeria, Yemen, Mauritius, Bangladesh and Bhutan. It will thus be India's contribution to bring the villages of the world together.

G B Meemamsi has been a member of the Telecom Commission

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