Thomas K. Thomas

New Delhi, April 6

WITH the current thaw in bilateral relations, India and Pakistan are exploring a proposal to connect each other through an optical fibre cable link.

The project, at a conceptual stage, may see Indian telecom companies partnering with Pakistan Telecommunication Company Ltd (PTCL) to connect Wagah and Mumbai through Amritsar. Senior officials in the Department of Telecom said that the project is being discussed between the two governments and a feasibility study is being done on security issues.

They said that either Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) or the Tata-managed Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd (VSNL) may become the Indian partner, if the proposal gets the consent of the two governments. Private long distance operators with an optical fibre cable network such as Reliance Infocomm and Bharti may also be invited to bid for the project.

Pakistan Telecom is the only operator in Pakistan and is keen to set up the link with India to bring down Internet and data leased line costs. Currently, Pakistan is connected to the world only through a single undersea optic fibre link South East Asia, Middle East and Western Europe-3 (SEAMEWE-3). If the link is established, it will also bring down tariffs for international long distance (ILD) calls from India to Pakistan, which at present are among the highest due to lack of direct connectivity. Data and voice traffic between India and Pakistan are currently routed through landing stations situated in a third country, which drives up the cost of service. This is also the first time that Indian telecom operators would get access to the Pakistani market. Earlier, the Pakistani government had not allowed VSNL to bid for taking an ILD licence. As per the proposal mooted by the Pakistani side, both countries would equally invest in the cable network. While PTCL will be laying the cable on the Pakistani side, the Indian company will be responsible for the Amritsar to Mumbai leg.

India had earlier agreed to establish a link with Sri Lanka. State-owned BSNL is looking at executing the project in association with the Sri Lankan government operator. Direct connectivity between countries helps to cut down on the distance through which the data is carried.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated April 7, 2005)
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