Interview with Gopi Krishna S Garge, Former ERNET Administrator IISc, Technocrat

1.      Given that Work From Home is likely to be the economic reality in a post COVID 19 World, as an IT / Telecom professional what do you envisage to be the improvement / expansion in bandwidth and infrastructure for such a digitised economy ... in India?

Yes, WFH is a reality to accept as well as contend with. However, I would envisage a 70% WFH in terms of time. Face-to-face (F2F) keeps an organisation together, if you consider an organisation as a community.

Urban and semi-urban centres in India have good connectivity and bandwidth. The affordability has increased commendably. Private ISPs rub shoulders with the telecom giants in bringing fibre-to-the-home (FTTH). Yes, there are issues of consistent service to contend with – power supply and Internet connectivity – in that order. Fix the consistency and all is well for the morphing of work location and routines.

2.      Which are the sectors of the economy that can work digitally?

The manufacturing and services (hospitality, healthcare, logistics and transportation) sectors require on-site presence. However, with the proliferation of cloud-based services, a large portion of typical administrative work of organisations can transition to WFH.

 Sectors such as software development and consultation services in various sectors (Technology, healthcare, legal, counselling, etc.)  could completely transition to WFH.

TCS had 90% of its employees working from home in end April 2020. It has committed to transitioning to WFH by 2025. Twitter and Shopify have committed to similar transitions to WFH, organisation wide. 

(https://www.businessinsider.in/business/corporates/news/tcs-ceo-says-the-business-model-is-20-years-old-and-its-time-to-go-employee-lite/articleshow/75243124.cms  https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/stocks-in-news/75-of-our-employees-to-work-from-home-by-2025-tcs-global-hr-head/videoshow/75467859.cms    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-05-21/shopify-is-joining-twitter-in-permanent-work-from-home-shift   https://www.forbes.com/sites/danabrownlee/2020/05/18/twitter-square-announce-work-from-home-forever-optionwhat-are-the-risks/#3438084b2565)

3.      Some sectors cannot really adapt to a digitised world...like say tourism, but they have – telemedicine, is one that comes to my mind. How do you think the legal profession can work in a digital space and what infrastructure is needed for that? Consider that senior lawyers – given the intellectual domain that the legal profession is – flourish far better than the junior / younger generation of legal professions, designing the IT infrastructure for the legal fraternity will certainly call for thinking out of the box. The geriatric lot of legal fraternity are very vulnerable to COVID 19 too, so attending the courts is not a reckoning at all.  Your comments will be critical here.

Apart from the sectors that require physical skills, every other sector has a potential to transition to WFH. However, there are certain formalisms of an established system such as the legal profession. For eg., in the case of the criminal court, physical evidences are handed out and examined. Can this be adapted to suit a trial/hearing done over a video conference? If yes, what changes are necessary for the transition?

For typical civil court hearings, attendance via video calls is already a norm. In my opinion, transitioning civil court operations online would happen first. I do wonder what the equivalent of “All Rise” would be, when on a live hearing online.

Ideally, nothing should hinder the functional transition of senior members of the judiciary to conducting the sessions online, remotely, if their functional protocols are addressed and complied with. But that then is the real question to the judiciary themselves.

4.      Tourism – needs onsite presence, but can IT / ITES render virtual tourism – (ideally for the armchair tourist) so to say... how can tourism be rendered digital / cloudified? Your comments on virtual tourism please. Make it short bouncy sentences with a maximum of 12 – 15 words per sentence!

You already have virtual tours of museums and art galleries available as part of online promotion material. Tourist places too can have similar virtual tours. There are virtual tours of both museums and monuments online and available free of charge. However, the user experience is not the best.

Most of these tours are 2D and lack two things: the means to notice the subtleties of the art form and the ambience. This requires better implementations and matching, affordable user gear. The technology, Virtual Reality, is available.

As a tourist, one needs an experience closer to reality. It must include the freedom to explore which is not often feasible at the tourist site.

(https://www.indiaculture.nic.in/virtual-museums  https://homegrown.co.in/article/804286/take-a-virtual-tour-of-these-5-indian-museums-from-the-comfort-of-your-home   https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/travel/things-to-do/monuments-in-delhi-offering-virtual-tour-amid-lockdown/as75115328.cms   https://www.taj-mahal.net/newtaj/  https://indiavrtours.com/)

5.      Will bionics / robotics replace e-commerce delivery? What real life infrastructure improvement is necessary for this scenario?

Deliveries are being substituted with robots that include drones. Drones for delivery are still cause for safety concerns. They will take longer to service domestic/residential users. They are regularly deployed in disaster management situations.

On-ground delivery robots have been tested since 2015. They are being used in campuses to deliver goods from one point to another. They are deployed to deliver groceries, café orders, etc., in residential areas.

Deploying such robots requires specific pathways for their operation. For eg., in the city of Milton Keynes UK, there are pedestrian pathways that interconnect various parts of the town with each other. M/s Starship’s delivery robots use only these pathways for deliveries. Such requirements could change with the arrival of self-driving cars.

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AbQN-a2d1s0 https://www.zdnet.com/article/amazons-new-delivery-robot-vs-starships-college-munchie-robot/)

6.      Please try and get me official statistics of internet penetration in India... can I get worldwide stats for internet penetration / efficacy somewhere on say a UN website?

These sites are in order of information availability. (https://www.internetworldstats.com/stats3.htm https://www.internetlivestats.com/internet-users/india/ https://www.expresscomputer.in/news/india-now-has-over-500-mn-active-internet-users-iamai/54898/  https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Documents/facts/FactsFigures2019.pdf   https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Pages/stat/default.aspx  https://yourstory.com/2020/05/half-billion-active-users-indian-internet-rural-local-mobile-first)

7.      What kind of internet bandwidth and speeds are necessary for achieving a clouded or digitised economy so to say?

For typical work that is interactive and largely text-based, a 10 Mbps (from ISP to your home) link should be sufficient. This could also support a video conference. One specific requirement is that the uplink speed (from your home to the ISP) should be reasonable enough to permit fast file uploads and share screens on video calls.

Urban and semi-urban centres already have such bandwidth availability (10 Mbps to 50 Mbps) on broadband, supplemented by 4G mobile. Rural users rely on mobile broadband, in some cases using 3G. That is the segment that needs to be addressed in terms of bandwidth.   

8.      How far away from this ideal bandwidth is India in at present?

The urban and semi-urban centres are already there. The rural users need additional bandwidth resources.

Interviewed by Malini Shankar, for Digital Discourse Foundation

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