Playing catch-up

THOMAS K. THOMAS | Updated on March 02, 2012

V.V.R. Sastry , Executive Director, C-DOT

State-run C-DOT aims to put ‘Indian' at the centre of tech development.

Once at the forefront of Indian telecom R&D, the Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT) has missed the opportunity in wireless technologies. But now the State-run company is now working on new areas including 4G and broadband to project India's technology development prowess. eWorld caught up with V.V.R. Sastry, Executive Director, C-DOT to know the company's future plans.

Many believe C-DOT is not relevant anymore. How would you respond?

It is a limited perception and not correct. C-DOT is more relevant today, especially in developing a robust telecom ecosystem in this country. Today's telecom networks are swamped by imported products and services, based on foreign technology. They add little value to national growth and more risk to national security. From a national security perspective, it is very important to have home-grown Indian IPR and technologies in the telecom and IT space.

Also, to avoid stupendous outflow of foreign exchange due to telecom gear imports in the near future, and to revive the national telecom equipment manufacturing base which, in turn, will create employment opportunities for the semi-skilled and skilled workforce of this country, it is very important to go the C-DOT way: that is, to create Indian IPR, develop products and services which can revive the Indian telecom manufacturing base. Products developed by C-DOT today such as GPON, NGN and Shared Radio Networks are, therefore, relevant. To sum it up, both Indian R&D and C-DOT are very relevant today.

Two decades ago, C-DOT was recognised as a powerhouse in India's telecom R&D. What went wrong?

Well, as a matter of fact, C-DOT remains a powerhouse of telecom R&D in the country, though no longer as visible as it used to be. Two major factors contributed to C-DOT's diminished visibility in the telecom sector in the last decade. First, the sudden and exponential takeoff of mobile communication subsuming fixed-line communications, which was C-DOT's forte; and, second, the sudden opening up of the telecom sector to private service providers and global telecom equipment vendors, without ensuring sufficient incentives to promote use of indigenous telecom equipment.

The fast-expanding telecom service business brought in a new business model that almost made local technology and manufacturing irrelevant, if not unwanted. Indian R&D and manufacturing sectors could not keep pace with the changing times and their growth was further stunted by the unwanted feeling that emanated from the then telecom ecosystem. But today, there is hope for a better tomorrow. Policymakers and other telecom stakeholders are realising the need for creation of Indian IPRs and revival of Indian manufacturing base. From a technology point of view, C-DOT is a powerhouse of telecom R&D even today, as it has developed many cutting-edge technologies such as GPON, NGN, Shared Radio Networks and Security Solutions.

Most global technology majors invest billions of dollars on R&D. In contrast, C-DOT's budget is just a few crores. Do you think more funds should be made available for C-DOT?

We have to credit the Government for never having denied requisite funding to C-DOT on any account. Government is always willing to make available funds for R&D projects of national interest. Not only the Government, but all the stakeholders too have to realise that R&D is the key to move up the value chain, put Indian products in the world market and create an integrated telecom ecosystem in this country. C-DOT can scale up and absorb greater telecom R&D spending if there are incentives for Indian technology and market access improves.

How is C-DOT able to attract top minds for R&D at Government salary? Are you facing any crunch in terms of recruiting engineers and researchers?

Competitive remuneration is definitely an issue at the critical technical management levels. Government salaries are better now and, as a consequence, C-DOT is able to offer competitive salaries to fresh graduates, although the lure of foreign employment and associated social status does impact the intake. C-DOT is still able to attract good talent as some of the top minds still view a C-DOT job as a good career option providing security, stability, opportunity to work on cutting-edge technologies and a better life-career balance. The attrition rate at C-DOT is usually lower than the industry average, though a sizeable chunk of recruited manpower opts to leave for other pastures after the initial two to three years at C-DOT. Middle level is still an issue, as a smaller percentage of the talented manpower is retained from the induction level and lateral recruitment of talent at this level at government salaries is becoming tough. Efforts are under way to tackle this issue through increased cooperation with the academia and introduction of better retention schemes.

C-DOT has completely missed the wireless technology development, right from GSM to 3G. What plans do you have for 4G technologies?

While C-DOT may have missed the major market of 2G/3G, there is still a mobile communications market, especially in the rural areas. C-DOT has not missed the opportunity to create within the requisite competence in the wireless mobile communication through development of technologies that permit active sharing of network infrastructure. C-DOT recently developed an innovative 2G product, SG-RAN, which is basically a network solution that permits sharing of active infrastructure by up to three different operators, each using his spectrum and remaining in total command of his service features. This is intended to be a low-cost solution for rural areas where the low ARPUs demand low Capex and Opex. 4G is definitely on our radar screen. C-DOT has good expertise to work on 4G technologies and is currently working on R&D programmes to build cost-effective 4G telecom products. Through these programmes we would like to catch up with the rest of the world in a two-year timeframe in the wireless segment.

Published on June 12, 2011

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