Kochi: Come June 5, Kerala will launch its ambitious Kerala Fibre Optic Network (KFON) project. The Pinarayi Vijayan-led state government’s flagship project has got ready for commissioning six years after it was announced in 2017 by then Finance Minister Thomas Isaac.
The project aims to provide internet connection to 20 lakh poor families in the state for free and to others at affordable rates. The KFON network would also provide internet connectivity to schools, hospitals, government offices and other public institutions.
Only 14,000 households will be given the connectivity in the initial phase. Dr Santhosh Babu, the Managing Director of Kerala State Information Technology Infrastructure Limited (KSITIL), the implementing agency of the project, however, is confident that KFON would meet its target in due course.
In an interview with Onmanorama ahead of the launch on June 5, the former IAS officer said KFON will be able to provide “from a couple of lakhs to up to 5 lakh connections a year”.
He said KFON is scheduled to give internet connectivity to 3,0438 government offices in the state. “As of now, we have covered 26,492 offices. Of them, we have been able to give connections to only 18,700 due to various reasons such as road expansion, and issues with Railways and National Highways Authority. Out of these, 17,218 government institutions are already live. They just need to plug in and start using KFON,” Dr Santhosh said. The KFON-ready institutions include the state secretariat, which is counted as a single office, and 10 of the 14 district collectorates.
Acknowledging that the company was entering a highly competitive market, Dr Santhosh said the KFON infrastructure offers a large number of products that can be monetised. He compared the network to a coconut tree, every part of which can be used, and described five ways to generate revenue.
First, the company can lease out the fibres laid as part of the network. “We have as many as 48 fibres in our network. We might require around 20 fibres for our operations, then the remaining 28 will be free. Why don’t we monetise them? There is a large number of organisations, including internet service providers, that are asking for fibres because we have the largest network in the state of around 30,000 km. We can lease them out. The lease cost is high. It comes to around Rs 20,000 per km,” he said.
The second source of possible revenue is internet leased lines. A leased line is a private telecommunications circuit between two or more locations provided according to a commercial contract. They are used by businesses to connect geographically distant offices.
The third option is the ‘fibre to home’ service. The free connectivity will be provided with a speed capacity of 15 mbps. For other customers, the speed will be provided as per their requirements. This will be a paid service.
“Fourth, we have a networking operating centre at Kalamassery and we have 375 points of presence (POPs) which will also bring us revenue,” the official said. In a network ecosystem, POP is an access point or physical location where two or more networks or communication devices can share a connection.
The fifth source of revenue is the government itself. The government will have to pay KFON for the services it offers. With the project becoming active, all government institutions will have to use the KFON service while they can maintain another service as a redundant connection just to ensure round-the-clock connectivity.
‘KFON is not a competitor’
Asked about the possible competition with other service providers, including BSNL in the public sector, Dr Santhosh said the project has been envisaged to be a complimentary network and not a competitor to anyone. “There are 75 lakh families in the state and roughly 20-25 lakh of them have a fibre connection at home though everybody has a smartphone. For children to study, they need laptops or devices like that. They will require stronger connectivity. This means 50 lakh families remain untapped. So, there's space for everyone,” he said.
He said the KFON’s tariff committee will decide the price at which connection could be provided to the needy after consulting the government. He said the company does not intend to trigger a price war. “We want to work along with all the internet service providers so that everybody gets a cost-effective internet connection according to one's needs,” he said.