Sanjeev Banzal, Director General, ERNET interacted with iLM (ilouge Media) and told about key national & international projects undertaken by ERNET and their impacts.
- Tell us something about yourself and ERNET to start with?
I am working as Director General, Education and Research Network India (ERNET India). This is an autonomous scientific society under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology(MeitY), Govt of India, which is fulfilling the ICT requirements of academic and research institutions in the country. ERNET India is currently serving more than a thousand institutions in the country in various sectors, such as higher education, school education, health, etc. Its area of operation is almost all states of India.
Regarding myself, I have over three decades of experience in the ICT sector, particularly in the telecom area. Initially, I joined as Indian telecom services officer(ITS) under the Department of Telecom(DoT) in 1992. Later I worked in BSNL in field and corporate office. Before Joining ERNET India as its Director General, I workedin the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India(TRAI) for about 15 years at senior and leadership positions. While working in TRAI, I have been instrumental in the formation of policies and regulations for the Indian Telecom Sector in the areas of Cellular Mobile Licensing, Spectrum Management, Emergency Telecommunication, Mobile Number Portability, VSAT, M2M/IoT, ICT for Smart cities, ICT needs for Persons with Disabilities (PwD) etc. I have also handled Consumer Affairs for the entire telecom and broadcasting sector in India.
At the International level, I have represented India at several forums like International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Geneva, Asia-Pacific Telecommunity (APT) Bangkok, South Asian Telecom Regulators Council (SATRC) etc. I have been the Rapporteur (head of the group) in ITU-D for Disaster Risk Reduction and Management. It has been an exciting career journey so far.
- How are you harnessing digital initiatives for empowering the government schools?
The COVID19 pandemic of the last more than two years has shown the power of digitization,connectivity and broadband. Without digital connectivity, it was unthinkable how our life would have been during this time? Sensing the educational needs of the students during the pandemic times, ERNET India has rapidly provided IT infrastructure and connectivity in several schools across various states so that there is continued education to the students even when schools are closed. These schools were primarily in rural and tribal areas. In addition, there are several colleges where ERNET India has provided Wi-Fi connectivity in the campuses of colleges and universities for seamless connectivity within the campus. We have also connected 50 medical colleges including 6 AIIMS, 2 PGIs and other state prominent medical colleges by smart classrooms so that students are benefited from the good faculty irrespective of their college locations. ERNET India is also a VSAT service provider for educational institutes in Lakshadweep, Andaman& Nicobar, and North-Eastern regional fulfilling its objectives of providing seamless connectivity. We are also exclusive domain registry for ac.in, edu.in, res.in domain in the country. In addition, we are in the accessibility field as well. We have been an important partner in the Accessible India campaign of the Government. We have made around 700 websites of schools accessible for persons with physical disabilities(PwDs).
Thus ERNET India has truly empowered educational institutes particularly Schools by its digital initiatives.
- What are some of the Research & Development efforts initiated by ERNET in the various areas and the impacts arising from the success of these initiatives?
As the name ERNET India suggests, it is in Research and development field also. ERNET India has two regional centres at Chennai and Benguluru. Since their inception these centers have been focusing mainly on R&D and training activities. ERNET India has been carrying out collaborative research and development in the field of computer networking over the last two decades. The current areas of research include the Internet of Things(IoT), LiFi, Rural Broadband, Tactile Internet, Quantum Networks/Communication, Power Line Communication, Smart Village, Cyber Security, Smart Agriculture and Smart Street lighting etc.
ERNET India has been in collaborative R&D as well. It has been in partnership with prestigious institutes like IISc Bangalore, IIT Madras, Anna University, IIIT Delhi, NIT Trichy, IIIT Guwahati, NIT Nagaland, NIT Arunachal Pradesh, SETS Chennai etc.
The impact of its research will be seen in the upcoming future once other associated infrastructure gets ready.
- Give us an overview of upcoming/ongoing projects – national and international, its objectives and vision.
ERNET India is mainly a project-based organization. It gets projects from central and state governments mainly in the field of education, research and development. We are now expanding in the areas of installation and commissioning of big data centers as well. Currently, we are having several projects for digital education, Wi-Fi campuses, data center establishment, making more websites accessible to PwDs etc. ERNET India has developed robust processes so that our education and other institutes particularly in rural, far-flung and tribal areas are benefitted from the digital revolution in timely and cost effective manner. This will help them to be a part of mainstream development and they can reap the fruits of digitization.
- What processes is being followed for the implementation of these projects?
ERNET India is a non-profit, non-commercial scientific organization. We undertake projects on an actual-cost basis. We follow all the procurement and work execution guidelines of the Government of India. Therefore, the project execution cost and material procurement cost is minimum once the project is executed by ERNET India on turn-key basis. ERNET India’s focus is on the timely completion of projects so that there is no cost-overrun. We have a strict quality control mechanism so that we are able to deliver a good quality of work and there is minimum expenditure on operations and maintenance.
- What kind of challenges is being faced while implementing these projects?
As I mentioned our processes are robust and time-tested therefore chances of failure are minimal. Nevertheless, we have faced challenges in the implementation of some of the projects. The challenges have been mainly in the field of connectivity. As we have implemented projects in rural, tribal and far-flung areas the challenges of connectivity have been there. Being a Government organization, we have to take connectivity from Govt telecom service provider i.e. BSNL. In some places,BSNL’s presence is not available which causes some delays in connectivity. Though we have VSAT based network also, however, connectivity using VSAT network is somewhat costlier than the terrestrial-based connectivity.
During COVID time due to lock-down etc there were several challenges which are common to almost all organization. This affected the work in ERNET India as well.