Father of internet Vinton G Cerf on India’s digital vision

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Praggya Guptaa | February 6, 2015




As a co-designer with Robert Kahn of TCP/IP protocols and basic architecture of the internet, Cerf is responsible for identifying new enabling technologies and applications. In an email interaction with Governance Now, he talks about the next phase of evolution of the internet and how India should go about connecting its billion plus people.

How do you see the global digital economy?

Currently, digitisation is facing least economic resistance as the cost of devices, storage and communication is declining. The globe-spanning internet facilitates international trade in goods and services, opening opportunities for everyone to be connected. The efficiency of handling digital content and transactions eventually dominates. The same may be said for electronic funds transfers and increased use of smartphones (they are so rich in functionality that to call them “phones” seems a misnomer).

Which trends do you foresee for the evolution of internet in the next few decades?

Trends like increase in internet speed, reliance on wireless networks (local, broadcast, satellite, etc.), the Internet of Things and advanced manufacturing including 3D printing may dominate the future. Also, non-invasive personal diagnosis for monitoring vital signs, supporting manned and robotic interplanetary exploration and smart cities might play a major role.

How can the internet be made more relevant for illiterate and non-English speaking population?

Recognition and synthesis of spoken language will improve with time. Automatic and real-time translation of spoken and written languages will soon become common. This capability will put the value of the internet and its contents within the reach of illiterate population. It may also become the means by which literacy can be achieved. Literacy is an important element for any country to achieve growth and advancement.

How is Google planning to collaborate on Digital India?

We are exploring numerous ways to extend the reach of the internet. Exploring alternative technologies and evaluating their cost and performance seems to be the most immediate imperative.

In your view, how can India address the issue of last-mile connectivity?

No single technology is sufficient to achieve the goal of last-mile connectivity. Mobile towers and the possibility of 4G and 5G network may be feasible for some areas. The national fibre backbone to 2,50,000 villages will form a basis for extension to an additional 3,50,000 villages. Point to point radio (such as Wi-Max) may allow local Wi-Fi networks to be linked to the backbone. It is also possible that some extension may be achieved through fibre on poles or trenches. There are many possibilities but they are still fairly experimental such as balloons and drones. The O3B satellite system might also be used to provide ground station hubs accessed by local Wi-Fi or other extension means.

In my view, the most important and immediate initiative for the Indian government is to build the fibre backbone and explore last-mile options. To stimulate private sector investment, policies might be adopted to make it attractive to build last-mile networks. In addition, internet exchange points might be subsidised to facilitate interconnection of domestic and private sector networks with each other and international backbones.

Can you throw some light on Google’s Project Loon?

Google has been testing this technology for over a year. The idea is to put balloons at about 60,000 feet above and use the winds at that altitude to confine the balloons to specific latitudes. The balloons would circle the earth, in effect. They have inter-balloon communication as well as air to ground and would be used to deliver Wi-Fi. If it works well, this is one way to extend the national fibre network.

pragya@governancenow.com

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