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Saturday, February 1, 2014

National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN)

Government of India has approved setting up of National Optical Fiber Network (NOFN) to provide connectivity to all the 2,50,000 Gram Panchayats(GPs) in the country. This would ensure broadband connectivity with adequate bandwidth. This is to be achieved utilizing the existing optical fiber and extending it to the Gram Panchayats.

At present OFC (Optical Fibre Cable) connectivity is available in all State Capitals, Districts, HQs and upto the Block Level. There is a plan to connect all the 2,50,000 Gram panchayats in the country. This will be done by utilizing existing fibres of PSUs (BSNL, Railtel and Power Grid) and laying incremental fibre to connect to Gram Panchayats wherever necessary. Dark fibre network thus created will be lit by appropriate technology thus creating sufficient bandwidth at the Gram Panchayats. This will be called the National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN). Thus connectivity gap between Gram Panchayats and Blocks will be filled.

Non-discriminatory access to the NOFN will be provided to all the Service Providers. These service providers like Telecom Service Providers(TSPs), ISPs, Cable TV operators and Content providers can launch various services in rural areas. Various categories of applications like e-health, e-education and e-governance etc. can be provided by these operators. The NOFN project is estimated to cost about Rs. 20,000 Cr. It is proposed to be completed in 2 years’ time. The project will be funded by the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF).

The company has been granted National Long Distance Operating (NLDO) license by DOT to w.e.f. 01.04.2013.

NOFN Concept Diagram


In NOFN the technology called GPON (Gigabit Passive Optical Network Technology) will be utilised.

A passive optical network (PON) is a network architecture that brings fiber cabling and signals to the home using a point-to-multipoint scheme that enables a single optical fiber to serve multiple premises. Encryption maintains data security in this shared environment. The architecture uses passive (unpowered) optical splitters, reducing the cost of equipment compared to point-to-point architectures.

The GPON (gigabit passive optical network) standard differs from other PON standards in that it achieves higher bandwidth and higher efficiency using larger, variable-length packets. GPON offers efficient packaging of user traffic, with frame segmentation allowing higher quality of service (QoS) for delay-sensitive voice and video communications traffic.

The main components of GPON technology are OLT, ONT/ONU, Splitters, OF cables etc.

ITU standard G-984 series as well as TEC spec GR no.PON-01/02 Apr 2008 define GPON technology

Pilot Projects

BBNL has embarked upon pilot projects in three blocks covering 58 Gram Panchayats in three different states. These blocks are Arian in Ajmer district (Rajasthan), Parvada in Visakhapatnam (Andhra Pradesh) and Panisagar in North Tripura district (Tripura).

The objectives of conducting a pilot project are as follows:
  • The learning on technology choice and network architecture.
  • Experiences gained in addressing ground realities in rural domain.
  • NOFN NOC (Network Operation Center) related issues being developed by C-DoT- its integration and its testing at pilot locations.
  • Experience gained by participation of TSPs, ISPs and application providers in utilizing bandwidth created by NOFN with respect to deliverables committed by BBNL.
  • Synergisation by DIT/DoT to work together for pilots and plan the template for pilot testing of G2C services.
  • Integration of NOFN pilots with existing networks from Blocks upwards. Also address the interfacing of NOFN with access operators at GPs.
  • Synthesis of learning from the pilots and cross learning amongst 3- CPSUs in execution strategy.
The target date for completing Pilot Projects was 15/10/2012, and the same has been achieved with OFC laid out to all the Gram Panchayats in the Pilot Blocks and Electronic Equipment (OLT and ONT) having been tested for offering services.

Rollout of national optic fibre network delayed yet again

India's ambitious Rs 21,000-crore national broadband venture is set for another delay. The communications ministry is likely to miss the revised rollout targets of the venture with Bharat Sanchar Nigam , Power Grid Corporation of India and RailTel failing to award nearly Rs 6,000 crore of cable laying & trenching (C&T) contracts for the first phase.

Cable laying and trenching is the most expensive piece of the countrywide broadband rollout, popularly known as the national optic fibre network (NOFN) venture that will take superfast internet to the hinterlands.

Staterun BSNL, PowerGrid and RailTel have been mandated to handle cable laying and trenching responsibilities in the 70:15:15 ratio, and the final value of the contracts will be over Rs 11,000 crore.

The NOFN project has already suffered a two-year time overrun, following which the telecom department recently sought the approval of the Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure (CCI) to implement the pan-India broadband rollout in three phases, starting with high-speed broadband links in 1 lakh gram panchayats (GPs) at an investment of over Rs 11,000 crore by March 2014.

"We've informed telecom minister Kapil Sibal at a recent NOFN review meeting that it will be impossible to extend broadband connectivity to 1 lakh GPs by March 31, 2014, since BSNL, RailTel and PowerGrid have not finalised the C&T tenders," a top telecom department official told ET.

"Even if they manage to award the contracts by the month as promised, we will only be able to meet a tenth of the broadband coverage target in the first phase," he added. A senior executive of Bharat Broadband Network Ltd (BBNL), which is the executing agency of the NOFN venture, complained that "umpteen reminders had been sent to BSNL, which will award 70% of the C&T contracts to multiple vendors, but to no avail". A BSNL director, in turn, blamed BBNL for the delays.

He claimed that "awarding of C&T contracts had been held up in absence of key clearances from BBNL," adding that all relevant tenders would be finalised this month. DoT is concerned that further delays in executing the crucial NOFN project could derail the government's pan-India broadband penetration target of 175 million and 600 million subscribers by 2017 and 2020, respectively.

At present, India has barely 15 million broadband customers. The DoT is also upset that the contracts haven't been finalised despite the Telecom Commission recommending a payout of Rs 2,700 crore as administrative fees to BSNL, PowerGrid and Rail-Tel to hasten NOFN rollout. The TC is the highest decision-making body in the communications ministry.

The government wants to fast track the national broadband network rollout as it will be the backbone of a rural broadband ecosystem. The communications and rural development ministries have recently agreed to co-finance the delivery of government-to-citizen e-services by leveraging the NOFN backbone. The gamut of such community based broadband services, ranging from ehealth , e-education , e-governance to ecommerce across the Rs 2.5 lakh GPs will be delivered by BBNL.

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