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BSNL launches video-calling services

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Public call offices to offer facility at Rs 3 for 45 seconds

A quarter of a century after the BSNL set up the first public call office (PCO) in India, telecom czar Sam Pitroda on Thursday launched the “second telecom revolution”.

He called BSNL officials at Ahmedabad through a video call office (VCO) from New Delhi, saying millions of migrants in the country could be benefited by this broadband connectivity.

Video call charges from a VCO booth of BSNL will cost Rs 3 for 45 seconds.

NO PC needed

Sunil Kakkad, CMD of the Ahmedabad-based Rs 1,500-crore Sai Infosystems (India) Ltd that developed the VCO solutions, said no personal computer would be required to make an instant face-to-face video call. Video quality would be assured through BSNL’s MPLS-VPN and VCOs can have an opportunity to create one-stop-shops for improved footfalls.

In the first phase, BSNL is opening VCO outlets in 12 States — Maharashtra, Goa, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Jammu & Kashmir. In the next six months, the facility will be available in the southern and eastern areas as well. The video calls from a VCO can be made within India only.

According to TRAI, there are nearly two million PCOs in the country of which BSNL owns 50% of that. Most of these PCOs are struggling for survival after mobile telephony surfaced. These PCOs could now be upgraded to VCOs.

“No other government in the world has done this. The Government has earmarked Rs 1,000 crore for public information systems as an investment in the future,” he said. “I can imagine the kids carrying Aakash tablets to their schools, rather than heavy bags, five years down the line. I am astounded to see my 18-month-old granddaughter talk to me via video,” said Pitroda, Advisor to the Prime Minister on Public Information, Instruction and Innovation.

Broadband infrastructure

For this revolution, India would have to roll out the broadband juggernaut; all courts and police stations, besides 2.5 lakh panchayats, must have broadband and computers. “Broadband is our future as the second phase of telecom revolution is about to begin to create new models for healthcare delivery systems, education and such for the masses. Even our teachers will have to change. It is a huge challenge.” Besides video-calling, the facility could also be used for value-added services such as mobile/DTH recharging, matrimonial meetings, tele-education, astrology, business meetings, job interviews, ‘ mandir darshan’, railway ticket booking and medical tele-consultation.

BSNL Chairman and Managing Director R. K. Upadhyay said India’s tele-density was less than 1 per cent and increased only after the introduction of mobile telephony in 1995. With one billion mobile phone connections expected in the next few years, India would be the second largest growth story after China in this sector. The country is expected to have 600 million broadband connections by 2020.

N. K. Gupta, Director (CFA), BSNL, said with the PCOs’ business witnessing a steep fall from the highest amount of Rs 4,000 crore a few years ago, it is time these offices upgraded themselves into VCOs, which can also revive landline business. “We are talking to MTNL for providing VCOs in New Delhi and Mumbai as well.”

Reviving PCOs PCOs could now be upgraded to VCOs Video calls from a VCO can be made within India only In the first phase, BSNL is opening VCO outlets in 12 States In the next six months, the facility will be available in the southern and eastern regions

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated September 21, 2012)
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