Indian states take flight with SWANs

Country's US$713 million State Wide Area Networks initiative to interconnect 29 states and six union territories is now in full swing.

INDIA--The country's US$713 million SWANs scheme in India is in full swing, as IT companies install state-of-the-art networks running on minimum 2Mbps leased lines.

The State Wide Area Networks (SWANs) Scheme, covering 29 states and six union territories (UTs), was approved by government of India in March 2005. These networks aim to interconnect each state and UT headquarter with the district headquarter, and each district with the block headquarters, over a minimum 2Mbps leased line.

"Implementation of the SWANs scheme is in full swing," Neel Ratan, executive director at PricewaterhouseCooper India, told ZDNet Asia in a phone interview. The consulting firm was engaged to design the initiative, is now tracking the progress of the SWANs and providing support to the Indian government to re move bottlenecks in the project.

According to India's Department of Information Technology (DIT) Web site, seven states--Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Chandigarh and Delhi--have completed the implementation of SWAN, while 12 states are in advanced stages of deployment. Implementation is also in the works in six states, though for eight other states, vendors have yet to be appointed.

With an estimated outlay of US$713 million (33.3 billion rupees), SWANs will create secure closed user group (CUG) government networks to deliver government-to-government (G2G) and government-to-consumer (G2C) services.

"In India, the common man is not connected to the Internet and this is the major challenge facing e-governance projects in the country," Tanmoy Chakrabarty, vice president and head of government industry solutions unit at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), said in an e-mail. "SWAN will provide the basic network needed by e-government applications to establish their reach." TCS is implementing the SWAN in Andhra Pradesh.

Faisal Paul, head of marketing and growth initiatives in enterprise servers and storage at Hewlett-Packard, told ZDNet Asia: "With better access to information, reduced response times and improved transparency, both business and citizens will be able to take informed decisions at the right time." HP is involved in the SWAN project in Himachal Pradesh.

Unique SWAN in every state
With SWANs, India is witnessing the introduction of new technologies. Take the case of Andhra Pradesh. "While most other states have limited themselves to using video conferencing, Andhra had the foresight to automate the processes prior to building network connectivity," Chakrabarty said.

Once the project is commissioned, the network will enable the state government to have videoconferencing capabilities across government offices, allowing these offices to communicate and conference with each other over VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) and considerably reduce government phone bills considerably.

TCS will bring its world-class IT integration capability to establish this information super highway for the Andhra government. "Andhra Pradesh SWAN is the largest in the country connecting 23 districts and 1,088 blocks in the first phase itself," Chakrabarty said. The project will launch in 12 months, with TCS engaged to manage the network for the next four years.

According to HP's Paul, Himachal Pradesh has the country's most technologically-advanced SWAN. Dubbed HIMSWAN, it is also the first SWAN project to be implemented in India.

"Only HIMSWAN has wireless connectivity and managed leased lines connecting tehsil (administrative division), sub-tehsil and each block, right up to the panchayat (political assembly) level. In terms of capacity of the installed equipment, HIMSWAN can cater to bandwidth requirements for 17 years, even if bandwidth needs increase," he explained.

Similarly, the Chhattisgarh SWAN is a hybrid network with a mix of wireless and wireline access supporting voice, data and video traffic. It will be one of India's largest fixed WiMAX deployments in for e-government, providing access to 3,000 locations in the state.

In Goa, United Telecoms (UTL) has used UTStarcom's GEPON for last-mile connectivity. The GEPON platform supports high-speed voice, data and video services to residential and business subscribers. "Apart from stability, it also meets all Goa Broadband Network (GBBN) requirements for enhanced services," Chalasani Venkateswara Rao, vice president of research and development at United Telecoms, said in an e-mail.

Goa and Andaman and Nicobar Islands have not opted to participate in the SWAN scheme. Goa has instead implemented GBBN, which adopts a different type of public-private partnership model and has provisions to provide broadband connectivity to all government offices, including selected private locations.

"With this technology, voice, video and data can be used with one optical network unit," Rao added. Technologically, broadcasting is the major advantage in GEPON along with proper bandwidth utilization.

"Most SWAN projects offer only G2G, while GEPON also offers G2C," Vijay Yadav, South Asia managing director of UTStarcom, told ZDNet Asia in a phone interview. "With GEPON, the speed is 30 to 500 times that of a traditional SWAN. GEPON can be easily upgraded to 10 gigabytes."

Taking technology to the common man
Once implemented, SWANs are touted to improve the quality of citizen services across India. Chakrabarty said: "Improving access to government facilities, by providing a basic backbone to host e-government applications, will result in an ecosystem that gives opportunity for everyone to contribute to the society."

"With SWANs, obtaining drivers licenses, ration cards and birth certificates will now be a lot easier," he added. Similarly, hospitals connected to the network can ensure patients' medical records can be accessed from multiple locations, making consultations across hospitals easier.

"Schools on SWANs will have easier access to the Internet, which in turn will provide a richer educational experience to students," Chakrabarty said.

In Himachal Pradesh, there has been significant reduction in response time in addressing grievances by concerned departments. "Farmers and villagers who submit queries using HIMSWAN, get immediate response from a group of experts from fields like agriculture, horticulture, animal husbandry, health and fisheries," Paul said. Updated and latest information regarding public distribution system, list of beneficiaries under different government programs and information regarding government grants, are now also available online.

Swati Prasad is a freelance IT writer based in India.