The Bharat-Lanka optical fibre submarine cable established between India and Sri Lanka by way of the agreement established recently between India`s Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL), the world`s seventh largest telecom company, and Sri Lanka Telecom, not only adds a new dimension to bilateral cooperation between India and Sri Lanka but could also play the role of a catalyst in the development of the SAARC region by enhancing inter-state trading and business links.
The `Daily News` spoke on the significance of this path-breaking, ocean-traversing telecom link between India and Sri Lanka to BSNL`s Chairman and Managing Director A.K. Sinha, who was in Colombo last week to launch the project and Sri Lanka Telecom`s CEO, Shuhei Anan, who represented SLT at the commissioning of the project. Given below are some extracts from the interview:
A.K. Sinha: BSNL was carved out of the Indian Government`s Department of Telecommunications. It then became a government corporation. It has the mandate to provide telephone services all over India except Delhi and Mumbai. This is how BSNL came into existence in year 2000.
Those days there was no direct telecom link between India and Sri Lanka. It was going in a roundabout way. Therefore in 2003, we decided something must be done and opted on reviving the micro wave link. So the micro wave link between India and Lanka was set up first.
That was probably commissioned in 2004. It had good capacity but not as huge as now. Before that it was agreed that we lay a submarine cable between India and Sri Lanka. For BSNL it is the first time that we have got a submarine cable outside India.
With the cooperation of Sri Lanka Telecom we have quite a few things lined up with the launching of this cable. This cable has greater capacity and there are spin off benefits for our customers too. The calling rate between India and Sri Lanka which was earlier 18 Indian rupees is now Rs. 7.20.
The benefit to our nation is that we are now in a position to have a bilateral telecommunication link with Sri Lanka. Tourist traffick and all traffick from India will go via Sri Lanka. We are requesting Sri Lanka Telecom to direct all their call traffick, in turn, through India.
This link would help in speeding-up tourist traffick between the countries.
Once our cooperation expands through this link other benefits would follow. This project has been developed with the cooperation of Sri Lanka Telecom with no cost, time overrun.
That gives us the encouragement to see how we could develop this project further. The whole world is moving from speech to data. This link is going to help in a big way in this process of making the transition from speech to data. We could have a least-line connectivity or a broad band connectivity.
Households in our countries can have a private wire network or a mutual private wire network. All these possibilities are there. For us, because a reasonable cost is involved we could also pass it on to our customers.
This is an exercise in bilateral cooperation between India and Sri Lanka and we could extend it beyond India and Sri Lanka. We could see how we could save costs and pass it on to our customers and make it a win-win situation for all of us, including the whole of South-Asian region.
A foundation has been laid in bilateral cooperation at the correct time at the correct cost. BSNL and Sri Lanka Telecom are meeting to chalk out the next phase to enable both to benefit.
Besides helping in free trade between India and Sri Lanka, this link could also lead to a TV network between the countries, through which good films and other forms of entertainment could be exchanged at reasonable cost on even a regional basis. This would even lead to fruitful cultural exchanges among our countries.
Besides a high speed broad band connectivity, telecom receivers on both sides of the Palk Strait could have a VPN and IPTV connectivity. So there is a whole range of possibilities, although unrealised today, which could become a reality tomorrow.
Shuhei Anan: This submarine cable could bring enhanced cooperation between the countries and be symbolic of such a thriving relationship. It could show that India and Sri Lanka are teaming up to develop the South Asian region.
This cable has a different meaning to those we have in our line of countries. It is a milestone in the SAARC region. The BSNL could have a good telecom connection with Nepal and Bhutan, and may be Afghanistan and Pakistan. On our side, we could get connected with the other side of the region. So, the total regional traffick will get together.
This cable link could also strengthen the Indo-Lanka Free Trade agreement. Investors would be greatly benefited by this connectivity. If the BSNL has good arrangement with Bhutan and Nepal the latter could enjoy the benefits of the network and spread the network to other countries.