As India launches an US$18 billion plan to spread the information revolution to its provinces, the problems it faces are a holdover from the past — electricity shortages, badly planned, jam-packed cities, and monkeys.
The clash between the old world and the new is sharply in focus in the crowded 3,000-year-old holy city of Varanasi, where many devout Hindus come to die in the belief that doing so will give them salvation. Varanasi is also home to hundreds of macaque monkeys that live in its temples and are fed and venerated by devotees.
However, the monkeys also feast on the fiber-optic cables that are strung along the banks of the Ganges River.
“We cannot move the temples from here. We cannot modify anything here, everything is built up. The monkeys, they destroy all the wires and eat all the wires,” communications engineer A.P. Srivastava said.
Srivastava, who oversees the expansion of new connections in the local district, said his team had to replace the riverside cables when the monkeys chewed them up less than two months after they were installed.
He said his team is now looking for alternatives, but there are few to be found. The city of more than 2 million people is impossibly crowded and laying underground cable is out of the question. Chasing away or trapping the monkeys will outrage residents and temple-goers.
Varanasi is part of the parliamentary constituency of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist leader who came to power in May last year.
A shortage of electricity is further complicating efforts to set up stable Wi-Fi in public places — daily power cuts can last for hours during the sweltering summer in Varanasi and across much of India.
Modi’s government has pledged to lay 700,000km of broadband cable to connect India’s 250,000 village clusters within three years, build 100 “smart cities” by 2020 and shift more public services like education and health to electronic platforms to improve access and accountability.
Varanasi was the first of an eventual 2,500 locations singled out for street-level Wi-Fi.
Industry experts predict that the broadband initiative, along with a surge in smartphone ownership, will mean that about a third of Indians will have access to the Internet by 2017, from about 20 percent, or 250 million people, now.
Expanding Internet connectivity and making access cheaper could add up to 1.6 percentage points, or about US$70 billion, to India’s GDP over a four-year period, consultants at McKinsey & Co have estimated.
Global technology companies see opportunity in Modi’s commitment to a digital future and are adapting their products to India’s varied climates and external threats.
IBM Corp is in discussions to provide software to help several cities make the leap into the digital age.
Network provider Cisco Systems Inc is working with the government in the eastern city of Visakhapatnam to bring more education and healthcare services online, and has developed a “ruggedized” Wi-Fi box to survive India’s varied climates and cut down on the need for cables that will be at the mercy of the elements — or monkeys.
“We’ve built outdoor Wi-Fi-access routers specifically keeping in mind Indian environmental conditions,” Dinesh Malkani, Cisco’s India country head, said in an interview. “You cannot predict what challenges you are going to come up against.”
Bringing some order to India’s chaotic cities with technology is a daunting task.
India’s urban population is forecast to swell by an additional 220 million to 600 million people by 2031, potentially overwhelming already inadequate infrastructure.
Many of the new digital projects are simply aimed at improving existing civic amenities: time traffic information to help people better plan their journey, or systems that allow individuals to monitor water leakages or waste management and then inform local authorities.
Vinod Kumar Tripathi, an urban planning expert in Varanasi, said Modi’s initiatives needed to be coupled with huge investments in improving basic services like housing, roads and waste management.
“Everything here is old, outdated and the population pressure just makes it worse. This place was a small temple town and is now a commercial center” Tripathi said in his office overlooking the Banaras Hindu University.
The free Wi-Fi service that started in February is certainly stimulating the consumer economy. Boatman Sandeep Majhi makes a living ferrying pilgrims and bereaved families who scatter ashes in the river after performing cremations.
He recently purchased his first smartphone to download music, exchange videos with friends and promote his boat business to tourists on Facebook.
However, he said the government needed to pay equal attention to the municipal services in a city where cars, rickshaws and carts fight for space through narrow, potholed roads lined with litter. Varanasi remains dependent on a 500-year-old, leaky drainage system for its sewage.
“Free Wi-Fi is a good facility for tourists, but I think the officials should think about cleaning the ghats,” said the 20-year-old, referring to the steps down to the river, which are often caked with cow dung.
Gogoro Inc (睿能創意) yesterday launched its first electric bicycle, the Gogoro Eeyo 1, in Taiwan, after unveiling the bike in New York in late May and in France on Tuesday. The company said it would also introduce the series in other European countries such as Germany and the Netherlands. The “Eeyo project” is the fourth of Gogoro’s eight projects that concentrate on smart transportation, which includes Gogoro’s electric scooter, battery swap system and electric scooter sharing service, company founder and chief executive officer Horace Luke (陸學森) told a media briefing in Taipei. “There are various types of city commuters. We will not
With the US dollar expected to weaken in the next 12 months due to near-zero interest rates, investors should consider purchasing US corporate bonds, Standard Chartered Bank Taiwan Ltd (渣打台灣銀行) said on Thursday. The bank said that the US Federal Reserve since last month has been buying bonds issued by US companies to curb default rates. The US dollar is forecast to be weaker against the pound, the euro and the yen, as well as the Canadian dollar, the Swedish krona and the Swiss franc, as the greenback lacks high investment returns after the Fed in March slashed the benchmark interest rate
BAD RAP: The exchange said Tatung had seriously breached shareholders’ rights and failed to give a satisfactory explanation of its board election dispute Tatung Co (大同) shares yesterday plunged by the maximum daily limit of 10 percent to NT$18.90, the lowest in three months, after the Taiwan Stock Exchange (TWSE) on Tuesday evening changed the company’s classification to a full-delivery stock effective tomorrow. The TWSE’s move follows the company’s failure to give a clear and satisfactory explanation of why it deprived dozens of shareholders of their voting rights during a board election at the annual shareholders’ meeting on Tuesday morning. Under the exchange’s regulations, investors are not allowed to engage in margin trading of a full-delivery stock, TWSE spokeswoman Rebecca Chen (陳麗卿) told
SIZE MATTERS: Medium-sized hotels that do not have the support of parent groups are more vulnerable and are forced to take action, a REPro Knight Frank researcher said About 50 hotels across Taiwan are seeking to exit the market as they succumb to the bleak business outlook amid international travel restrictions imposed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Yomi Hotel (優美飯店) on Minsheng E Road, Sec 1, in Taipei is seeking to transfer ownership with an asking price of NT$950 million (US$32.15 million) and a pledge for a lease contract that guarantees a 3 percent return. The budget hotel, with room rates that start from NT$1,400 per night, maintains normal operations, but has been struggling since March, when the government placed restrictions on inbound and outbound travel. Occupancy rates for hotels in