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|November 4, 1997||
The Lone RangerProfessor Ashok Jhunjhunwala of the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, is fighting a careless government which has rejected his invention for quick and cheap phones and opted for a US technology which is three times more expensive and dramatically less efficient.
But in an interview to Rediff On The NeT, he told Shobha Warrier "I am not going to lose the battle. That is very clear." True to the scientific spirit, the determination of this inventor has eclipsed his frustration.
In his last interview to Rediff in June, when the story of his invention was scooped, he was upbeat. Today, he is disappointed and anguished. Especially because the fruits of his team's work of years is being denied on the flimsy excuse that the wireless frequency range in which his technology operates has been allotted to the military and cannot be used for commercial purposes.
There are reports that the DoT has decided to float a tender
and their preference is the CDMA-based (code division multiple
access) wireless technology and not the DECT (digital enhanced
cordless technology) system developed by you. What's the difference?
On the other hand, the DECT system can handle data transmission up to 64 Kbps and ultimately touch 144 Kbps.
When you are moving around town and looking for some kind of voice telephone it does not really matter whether you have 9.6 Kbps or 64 Kbps. Because for that kind of mobile communication both the technologies work perfectly. But for a home and an office telephone that is going to be there for 15 years, is it not good to have a system that can also handle data connectivity at high speeds? If you opt for CDMA instead of DECT you are shutting off advantages like connectivity to the Internet.
Take a look at the statement by the Joint Telematics Group of the five IITs and IICs, it will alert you to the importance of our system.
I think it is suicidal to install a CDMA systems in the country. It cannot be upgraded to support data connectivity. I can site two reasons why this IS-95 system by Qualcomm is not acceptable: One; it is three times more expensive than our system. Two; it is not upgradable.
I also think that this technology does not have much use as a wireless local loop system. It is like giving you a cell phone and then telling you it is a fixed-line WLL phone.
My question is when our system is available for a third of the cost and when we can provide 64 Kbps data communication which no technology in the world can, why should you go for something else?
The defence ministry is reluctant to free up the 1800 Mhz frequency
band for commercial telecommunications purposes.
I don't think the defence ministry is refusing to release the frequency. I have talked with a lot of people in the defence ministry and they have always said that if a request comes they will seriously consider the matter and release the frequency. However, the problem remains that the frequency has not been released.
What could have led to such a situation? In a way, the IIT
is a part of the government.
Do you think the frequency clearance issue is an excuse to
lock you out?
You are exporting your technology to countries like Malaysia.
Do you feel disappointed that your work is not appreciated at
home? I have heard that there was some discussion in Parliament
about the work done by your team and the rigid stance taken by
If at all I am disappointed, it is because we cannot get a hundred million telephones installed in the country quickly even when we have the means and the technology to do so.
That's what I want, a hundred million telephones for our country. I know that here, in India, we don't have much money. But I am sure that our technology can help circumvent the money problem.
This IS-95, CDMA system is expensive. It will cost you nothing less than Rs 45,000 per line while ours can be had at between Rs 10,000 and Rs 11,000 per line. And our costs are expected to come down further.
I know the issues here have been discussed in Parliament. But multinationals are powerful in the country. They can lobby and get things done. We haven't done these things before. But we know our country and we will do whatever is required. We should have been more prepared to face such problems.
Were you expecting this, fighting against multinationals and
losing the battle?
Against strong multinationals too?
How can you be so confident that you can convince the hitherto
heedless government departments?
We will see to it that the person who is trying to take a decision like this understands the foolishness of adopting CDMA. The decision can also be dangerous to the economy.
But you are exporting this technology to many countries like...
You mean, orders from private companies?
I think all this requires effort. I did not think till now that all this effort will have to be made by us. I thought these are things that would be taken care of and we could concentrate on our job of developing technology.
Today our success in many places in the world has led many industrialists in this country to back us. Many bureaucrats are backing us, many people in DoT are also strongly in favour of our system.
See here, in Adyar, people have been using our system for nine-ten months. We have gained supporters among them too. In spite of us paying more duties and taxes, more than an imported system, our line is worth only between Rs 10,000 and Rs 11,000. Today a telephone in India costs between Rs 18,000 and Rs 20,000. And we are replacing it with much cheaper and efficient technology.
Recently I talked with an engineer in the telecommunications
department. He says the department is going to have optical fibres
running from the exchange to a particular point on the roads instead
of cables and from there they will connect to various houses.
He says wireless in local loop will become redundant when this
happens. Is it true?
I don't think there is any one solution. Yes, I agree fibre in local loop is very good and it is going to happen. In the next few years you are going to see more and more of fibre in local loop.
He told me that instead of big exchanges in one place, they
will have several small exchanges on the road itself and telephone
connections would be given out from there.
Are we already using fibre in local loop anywhere?
But I was told that fibre in local loop will make wireless
in local loop completely redundant?
You had told me that wireless in local loop is very important
in rural areas where population density is very thin
In dense urban areas, fibre in local loop and wireless in local loop become very meaningful. But there is no doubt about the fact that wireless in local loop is going to play a major role in rural areas too.
Where is wireless in local loop more essential, densely populated
urban areas or sparely populated rural areas?
Besides it is much cheaper and can also support data speeds up to 64 Kbps.
What will you do if your system does not get selected by DoT?
When did you come to know that DoT has given preference to
the CDMA system?
I am sure people will see sense. Totally senseless things cannot
Earlier interview: The Negroponte switch; made in India
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