Sanjai Kumar, Chairman-cum-Managing Director, RailTel Corporation of India Limited, speaks to Swarajya about various issues concerning digital transformation, station Wi-Fi, and optic fibre networks among other subjects.
Excerpts from the interview
Q. What are the core strengths and assets of RailTel?
A: RailTel, a ‘Mini Ratna’ PSU of the Government of India, began its journey in 2000 as the Signalling and Telecom arm of Indian Railways. Since then, through expansion, diversification, and upgradation, RailTel has evolved into a prominent ICT solutions and services provider, and one of the largest neutral telecom infrastructure providers in the country.
Our most significant asset is our extensive pan-India optic fiber network, currently spanning over 61,000 RKM along railway tracks. This network covers key towns, cities, and even rural areas.
Additionally, RailTel boasts a City Access network of over 21,000 km, over 9300 Points of Presence, over 1050 telecom towers, two Tier-III certified data centres, a MeitY empanelled RailCloud, a specialized security operation centre, and a highly qualified team of domain experts.
Q. What are the core businesses and services offered by RailTel?
A: Leveraging our robust infrastructure, RailTel offers a wide range of telecommunication services including Internet bandwidth, leased lines, MPLS VPN, tower co-location, dark fiber leasing, retail broadband through RailWire, HD video conferencing, and e-tendering. We also provide data center services, cloud services, disaster recovery, and security operations centre services.
RailTel is actively engaged in various ICT projects such as IP-based video surveillance system, e-office, hospital management information system (HIMS), railway signalling projects, Aadhar-based services, and more.
Our services extend beyond the railways, encompassing sectors like coal, banking, health, defense, and strategic areas.
Furthermore, we are exploring global projects and actively seeking capable partners to collaborate with.
Q. How is your partnership with Indian Railways going, and what important projects are currently in progress for them?
A: RailTel and Indian Railways have a close-knit partnership. RailTel has successfully executed numerous projects and provided ICT and telecom services to Indian Railways.
We are currently involved in several ongoing projects for Indian Railways, fully geared up to be associated with their ambitious National Rail Plan 2030.
Some of the key areas where RailTel is actively collaborating with Indian Railways include station Wi-Fi, hospital management information system, e-office, signal modernisation, tunnel communication, video surveillance system, converged communication system, shared RAN solution, video conferencing, and more.
We are executing the project of installing a state-of-the-art integrated tunnel communication system on 5 crucial sections of Indian Railways aimed at safety of train operations.
The technology to be used for such system will be first of its kind in Indian Railways.
The 5 projects costing Rs 350 crores in three Railway zones are: Katra-Dharam-Banihal section of the ongoing crucial Jammu and Kashmir Rail link of Northern Railway, Panvel-Karjat, Karjat-Lonawala and Kasara-Igatpuri section of Central Railway and Castle Rock-Kulem section (Braganza Ghat) of South Western Railway.
RailTel has also been assigned to install IP based video surveillance system (VSS) to provide proactive high-tech security at over 5000 Railway stations.
We are now also working on public Wi-Fi monetisation program in partnership with a consortium of reputed companies by introducing many passenger friendly infotainment services along with offering canvas space to advertisers to access masses.
We intend to play an important role in the LTE/4G project and KAVACH project of Indian Railways.
Q. Is RailTel involved in any critical government projects related to digital transformation?
A: Absolutely, RailTel is playing a pivotal role in the nation's digital transformation, aligning with the Prime Minister's Digital India initiative.
We are actively engaged in executing mission-critical projects for the Government of India such as the National Knowledge Network (NKN), Bharat Net, and campus Wi-Fi at universities.
NKN is a cutting-edge Pan-India network, while Bharatnet aims to democratise information and improve governance at the Panchayat level. RailTel, as an implementing agency for NKN, has connected 747 institutions of higher learning.
Additionally, as one of the partners for Bharatnet, we have laid over 26,000 km of optical fiber cable, covering thousands of panchayats. RailTel is also providing campus Wi-Fi facilities at 26 Central University campuses.
Q. What are the highlights of the financial and operational performance of your company during the past financial year?
A: RailTel has maintained a consistent record of profitability and dividend payouts. In the previous fiscal year (2022-23), we achieved our highest-ever operating income of Rs 1964 crore, marking a remarkable 27 per cent annual growth.
In terms of profitability, RailTel recorded a total profit before exceptional items and tax of Rs 257 crores, surpassing the previous year's figure of Rs 231 crore. We are also proud to maintain a robust order book valued at over Rs 5000 crores, which will contribute to our revenue stream.
Q. What is RailTel’s focus on internet penetration into rural India?
A: Expanding broadband Internet access in rural areas is critical for accelerating digital progress and improving the quality of life for residents.
It plays a pivotal role in the successful implementation of key social sector schemes and programs by the Central and State governments.
RailWire, our retail broadband service, places a strong emphasis on rural coverage. Over 45 per cent of our current RailWire subscribers are in rural areas.
Moreover, out of the 6108 Railway stations equipped with Wi-Fi by RailTel, approximately 5000 are in rural areas.
We are implementing a scheme to provide broadband Internet to over one lakh villages located within 5 km of railway stations in rural areas. So far, we have covered around 12,000 villages under this initiative.
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