H.K.Firodai Award goes to Prof.Jhun Jhun Wala
November 5th 2002 ( Message 125 )
You are a true inspiration and a champion and we Salute you for your vision and tenacity in overcoming the odds in a country like India where money talks and corruption and red tape are rampant.
A simple exercise as IIT-Global set up to network with Alumni from all IIT's and to act as a free forum devoid of banter, religion or politics has had strong opposition from shall I say "The Establishment" that sees this private groups as a threat.
We have been accused of being illegitimate and defragmenting other efforts. I am happy I can take cue from your committment to follow your dreams.
I am sure the 1100 current members will join me and applaud your achievements.
It would be good if you can find some time to post a message to this group of IIT alumni living all over the world and tell us how we can join you in progressing your dreams. We have 36 alumni groups in Madras alone and am sure 36 such groups in all IIT's totalling over 100000 members. That is a lot of IITians and I am sure we can make a significant impact in furthering your dreams.
Acceptance speech by Dr. Ashok Jhunjhunwala on being presented H.K. Firodia Award on 8.10.2002
1. I consider it a great honour and special privilege to receive the H.K. Firodia award for Excellence in Science and Technology today, specially from the hands of Honorable former President of our country. When I look at those who have received
the award in the past, I recognize that only people of great eminence and very high capabilities have got the award in the past. I do hope I can follow their footsteps and serve our country.
2. I remember that when I had just got admission at IIT Kanpur and my grandfather, who was a Gandhian worker living in Bihar, told me about some debate that had taken place in Sarvodaya Circles when IITs were being set up. Initially a bit perturbed
that such elite institutions were being set up in independent India, Gandhians had come to a conclusion that these institutions were to be like Nalandas of esteryears. Society was to provide the best for its brightest students. But once they graduate, it is upto these students to lead the country and overcome all the problems that the society faces, without complaining. He hoped that I will live upto what society provides me to get educated at IIT.
3. I joined IIT Madras as a faculty 21 years ago. My grandfather's words were very much in my mind. Equally important, I had learned over years that S&T in India must contribute to strengthening the industry in India as well as serve the society.
What I had learned so far was, however, largely theoretical. I did some theoretical work on new devices and communication systems and published my results. During my M.S and Ph.D. years, I had got trained in these aspects.
Sometimes what we published was significant, at other times it made only a delta contribution. But I soon realized that even if we make a significant theoretical contribution to the state of art, it had practically no impact on Indian industries and societies in short or medium run.
I therefore started interacting with Indian industries. I found that by and large electronics industries were importing technologies and assembling systems. But for the protected market, they would not be able to survive. I decided to help by building some small gadgets and devices for them.
4. The problem was that I had never built these electronic gadgets and devices earlier. I put forward this problem to my students. Some of them came forward and offered to learn and build things along with me.
We, therefore, started learning, building things, making mistakes and correcting ourselves.
It was a matter of couple of years when our systems started working in our labs. But when we took them to the industry, we encountered another problem, what works in a lab does not work in the field. The process of building and learning started again.
It took a lot of efforts on part of industry, students and myself, before we could make something work. At the time, if we would have talked about our IPRs or consultancy with industry, we would have got no-where. We were only learning. Just because we had PhDs did not mean that what we were doing had any IPR. We worked with very limited resources and industry contributed as much in terms of experience, field testing, components and manpower. By 1985, we could build small industrial systems.
5. It is around this time we heard about Sam Pitroda and CDOT through some of our students working at CDOT. I visited CDOT several times. I saw a commitment to deliver and a commitment to make a difference to the Indian telecom scene. They were not only developing technology, they were also developing a culture for technology development in India. It is here that we recognized that we are not inferior to anyone else in this respect.
Also we learned that technology development is meaningless without simultaneously developing the manufacturing and Quality Assurance process and developing vendors.
6. In late 80's, I was joined by Dr. Bhaskar Ramamurthi and Dr.Timothy Gonsalves, both former students of IITM. They returned to IITM after M.S/Ph.D and some work experience in USA. We decided to work as a team (in the form of TeNeT group) with a
commitment to make a difference to telecom and networking in India. We soon realized the great advantage of working as a team (that 1+1 is not 2 but 11). Today, technology is rarely an individual effort.
We learned much faster and were able to build a fairly large team of youngsters (mostly fresh graduates) to build systems that matter.
7. By early nineties, we had come to a conclusion that if India had to stand up, it required around 100 to 200 million telephone and Internet connections, whereas it had barely 10 million connections. We started analyzing why this was so. While lack of investments and having Government monopoly operator were part of the answer, the root of the problem was in simple economics. At that time, it used to cost Rs.40,000 as infrastructure cost to put up a telephone line. Considering that the finance cost in India was 15%, depreciation rate of telecom infrastructure as 10% and operation and maintenance cost as 10%, it would require 35% of Rs.40,000 as yearly revenue from every line. This amounts Rs.1000 per month.
Now how many Indian homes could afford to spend Rs.1000 per month? Even if we assure that 5% of a household income can be spent on communications, barely 2-3% of Indian homes could afford it.
But the same analysis shows that if one could reduce the cost of telecom infrastructure from Rs.40 K to Rs.10 K per line, almost 50% of homes (and 75% of homes with cross-subsidy) could afford Telephony and Internet.
8. Now, why was the infrastructure cost Rs.40,000 per line ¾ because in the West it was $800. Even in the West, one needs about 35% return on investment every year to break even. But this amounts to $30 per month, which most household could afford.
Therefore everyone was connected quite sometime back and bringing down the cost further did not expand the market.
The R&D focus in the West naturally shifted to provide more and more features and services for the replacement market rather than reduce cost.
However, when India used these technologies, the service was limited to a few percent. It was clear that India needed Rs.10,000 per line telecom system and our R&D needed to focus on this. The vision and efforts of the TeNeT group concentrated on enabling developing countries like India have telecom systems at infrastructure cost of around Rs. 10 K per line. 9. Since then, we have worked towards this. We have incubated companies along with our students, tied up with component manufacturers in the West, tied up with manufacturing industry in India and are working with telecom operators to innovate to reduce costs. Today, our efforts and other similar efforts at cost reduction (especially in China) have resulted in cutting the telecom infrastructure cost to around Rs.20 K per line; still far away from Rs.10 K target. But today we are very confident that we will get there in about 2 to 2 1/2 years.
In the process, we faced numerous difficulties. Initially only a few believed in us. As we brought our technologies upto the field level, we faced the wrath and manipulations of our competitors & the Government machinery was turned against us.
Specifications were changed; frequency spectrum was denied; we faced some tiring time. We, however, refused to be defeated.
Our competitors were hoping that being denied any opportunity to deploy systems, we will not be able to survive. We started deploying outside the country even though different standards there made it very difficult.
Our decision to persevere to keep going on and on finally paid dividends. Today our technologies are being widely used by both public and private operators in India. In many developing countries, we are deploying our systems in medium sale. There
were numerous people who stood with us during those testing times. I would specially like to mention the efforts of Prof. Yashpal, Prof. Govind Swaroop, Prof. Indiresan,
Shri N. Vittal, Prof. M.G. K. Menon and the support that we received from Dr. Mashelkar and Dr. Ramamurthi.
10. But this is the past. Where do we go from here? Today, we feel that
(i) India should be able to reduce Capex Cost of telecom to Rs.10 K per line setting a stage for massive expansion of telecom in India.
(ii) it is possible for India to obtain leadership in the world in some of the areas of telecom.
(iii) but most important, as Internet is power, we not only need to have 200 million telecom and Internet connections in India, we need to provide Internet in every Indian village at the earliest.
While the first two are primarily technological tasks, it is the third, which is a far more complex task as it involves more than mere technology innovation. The TeNeT group is committed today to do whatever is required to see that all villages in India
11. To achieve this, we have recently set up a company called n-Logue communications with a charter to provide and operate Internet connections in all the villages of the country. The company is barred from operating in urban areas so that it can
focus on rural areas and act and think rural.
The business plan of the company is based on the success of STD PCOs in the country. There are 950,000 such PCOs contributing to almost 25% of total telecom revenue and over 50% of urban population who otherwise could not use telephone revenue are
using it through these PCOs. The PCOs are kept open for 16 hours 365 days by a small entrepreneur. Using this model, n-logue plans to set up an Internet kiosk in each village. The kiosk consisting of wireless equipment, multimedia personal computer with camera, printer, power back up for at least four hours and Indian language software costs Rs.50,000.
A local entrepreneur sets up this kiosk (assisted by bank loans)and starts providing three services in the village & telephone service,
Internet service and stand-alone computer services. The operator needs to earn only Rs.3000 per month to start breaking even.
n-Logue has already started putting such kiosks in villages in Tamil Nadu, Maharastra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan.
The experience of the last eight months have been moving. Villagers now use video conferencing, chat and voice / video mails to connect to eye doctors to get their eye treated specially for cataract. Farmers have often consulted agricultural
colleges on problems relating to their crops and to veterinary college doctors for treatment of chicken and cow disease.
They get their certificates from the District Collector's office by filing on-line applications. Youngsters in villages use live video based education for coaching in specific subjects. Some youngsters have learned CAD / CAM and are looking for work from urban areas that they can carry out remotely from villages.
12. We commit to providing each village such connectivity in the next four or five years. The rural GDP of India today is about Rs.600,000 crores.
If these connections can immediately enhance this by even 10%, it would change our country. When we are able to do that, I would have fully justified this honour bestowed on me. I seek blessings from all of you in such an endeavor.