Plans to tap an international submarine optical fibre cable to meet the enhanced IT needs of the remote Andaman & Nicobar Islands promise to change the face of the region

Last year when Mohan Babu returned to his native town of Port Blair, the capital of Andaman & Nicobar Islands, after serving multinational firms in metropolitan cities for over a decade, his social life on networking websites changed forever.

Since then this bright software engineer, who has been struggling to update his status on Facebook and Twitter, is now leading a “boring” life like several other youngsters living thousands of miles away in the beautiful islands clusters in the Bay of Bengal.

“When I was working in Bangalore, I had access to a 4 Mbps broadband connection that offered at least 500 Kbps download speed…in Port Blair the Internet connection which I have now offers a dismal 56 kbps bandwidth while download speed of just 10-15 kbps. It takes several minutes to open a normal website or send emails, forget about staying connected with hundreds of friends on social networking sites. From a socially active person I am now totally isolated from the World Wide Web,” Mr. Babu points out.

This is one of the main reasons why youngsters of Andaman & Nicobar Islands who travel to the mainland for higher studies do not return. And for this the Central Government, in-charge of the A&N Islands administration, is to be blamed. For decades it has failed to meet the growing bandwidth requirement of the islanders who are totally dependent on satellites as no cable connectivity is there from the mainland. Ironically, even the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) stationed its satellite in such a manner that A&N Islands falls in the “shadow area” and is deprived of proper coverage.

“As against the requirement of 500 Mbps, we are getting just around 220 Mbps…a majority of which is used to keep the government running in this remote location, so residents do not get proper Internet connectivity,” says A&N Islands Commissioner and Secretary Bhupinder S. Bhalla. However, things are going to change in the next couple of years as the Centre has cleared a Rs.700 crore project to tap an international submarine optical fibre cable exclusively for the A&N Islands.

According to A&N Islands Chief Secretary Shakti Sinha: “This one-of-its-kind project will meet all our future requirements and pave way for setting up information technology industry to cater to the mainland as well as global markets. Once this project is completed, we will have access to 10 Gbps bandwidth, which would be scalable to a whopping 990 Gbps. It will open up immense possibilities for us across various sectors -- be it e-governance, IT or service industry, education or health.”

While the project's completion is still two years away, the A&N Islands administration has already started making plans to tap the opportunities this new broadband revolution would bring to the islands.

“We are already in the process of increasing computer training in schools, while IT education is being given a big push at the college level. We are also in talks with some leading domestic IT firms trying to chalk out plans how to utilise this enormous bandwidth capacity that will be available to us. Apart from the mainland we are also looking at South-East Asian nations, which are close to us as potential markets,” Mr. Bhalla adds.

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