IITs and Skill India: An incomplete dream

To appear in Nov-Dec 2015 issue of IETE Technical Review as an editorial.

For commuting within New Delhi where I live, I often travel in an auto (a three wheeler and a popular means of transport in India). While traveling, I usually strike a conversation with the auto driver and enquire about his kids, their education and aspirations. On one such occasion, after knowing that I am a professor at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi, the driver asked me: Sir, my son wants to become an electrician. Is there any program at IIT which will make him a skilled electrician so that he can be self-employed?” His question sounded to me odd because tales abound of how IITs are known globally for their undergraduate and post-graduate programs in engineering. I told him: we do not have any program at IITs which can help your son in becoming a good electrician. I could see the disappointment in his face at my snappy answer.

In India, there are critics and admirers of IITs. The critics often say that IITs have not stood up to the measure in terms of developing indigenous technologies required in, for example, India’s space programs and defence applications or providing clean environment or green energy solutions and so on.  Roughly it costs about Rs. 3,45,000 per year to educate an IIT student while the annual fee collected from each student is only Rs. 90,000. Critics argue about the futility of subsidizing the education of IIT students when their contributions in helping India develop indigenous technologies required for improving the quality of life and providing security to the people of India is dismal.

While IIT students get world class education in different branches of engineering and sciences, observers who are critical of IITs often point out how IITians do not join in their core areas and instead drift to consulting, banking, business and many other professions which are not directly related to their core training. While some IITians, for example, Narayan Murthy and Nandan Nilekani (of Infosys), Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal (of Flipkart), and Bhavish Aggarwal and Ankit Bhatia (of Olacabs) are popular names in India for their contributions through entrepreneurship, critics of IIT system argue that to our continued consternation, very few IITians join entities such as Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), government research labs (there are scores of defence and CSIR labs) or mammoth organizations such as Indian railways which require their technical services.

On the other hand, justifiably, there are many admirers of IITs and that includes me too.  The graduates of IITs have excelled all over the world as entrepreneurs, technologists, scientists and professors. Globally they have contributed enormously to the advancement of human welfare. While Sundar Pichai of Google is the most popular IITian today, there are several other blue eyed IITians whose contributions influence our everyday life in some form or the other.

Among many famous IITians, I am listing here only a few as representative examples: Vinod Khosla of Sun Microsystems (the company which developed the Java programming language), Google’s Amit Singhal  (whose team decides how search engine results appear on your screen), Padmasree Warrior who worked at Motorola and later at Cisco Systems (Forbes listed her as the 71st most powerful woman in the world in 2014) and so on. A recent Global Startup Ecosystem Ranking report says that while Indians are only 6 % of the Silicon Valley working population, a whopping 15% of the 14,000 – 19,000 startup companies in the Silicon Valley are founded by them, which includes a significant number of IITians.

More often than not IITians have attributed their success to the quality of education they received from IITs. The faculty in these IITs, many of whom are IIT alumni themselves and obtained their degrees from world renowned institutes, do a remarkable job in training their students and in carrying out research. They, undoubtedly, are respected globally.

Let me now come back to my conversation with the auto driver and his son’s desire to have training by an IIT so that he can be self-employed. I think that his question is not because of his ignorance about what IITs do but about what IITs should be doing to help realize the dreams of crores of young Indians who are entering the job market.

The Delhi Government’s Economic Survey for 2014-15 reports that the number of unemployed youth with diplomas in different vocations in 2013 is 44,934. The situation could be as bad or even worse in other parts of India. These youngsters neither could get a job nor engage themselves in self-employment mainly due to the poor quality of training they might have received at scores of polytechnic institutes and vocational training centers spread across India. In the villages, towns and cities of India, it is common knowledge that the electricians, welders, plumbers, auto mechanics and civil construction workers, to name only a few professions, often self-learn the skills either on-the-site or as apprentices to friends and family members, devoid of any formal training, leading to poor service and un-employability.

A recent report by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) indicated that only 2.2% of those between 15 to 59 years age group received formal vocational training. Bad training and un-employability also lead to lack of respect and a negative image about these professions discouraging youngsters from taking up vocational training. Skill development through vocational training is no longer an appealing option in Indian society. The only solution to overcome this problem is to make sure that the vocational training imparted to the students is of highest possible quality so that these youngsters can get jobs in the labour market or self-employed in different sectors of the growing economy.

Could IITs, with their strong emphasis on high quality education, consider this as a challenge to solve? The well-wishers of IITs may feel despair at my propensity for even thinking about such an impractical idea. Train the youth of India to become better electricians, plumbers, masons and mechanics? What about our research? What about getting into the top world university rankings?  Doesn’t it dilute the vision for which IITs are set up? Even if IITs decide to take up this challenge, isn’t the scale of operation enormous since it involves training thousands of young Indians? How can IITs do it? Have IITs ever carried out any such socially relevant operation on a large scale? Now, take a breath.

As it turns out, what IIT Mumbai and IIT Kharagpur are doing in an area that will have a far reaching social impact in India is praiseworthy.  Let me brief you on this. Lack of well trained teachers is negatively impacting the Indian higher education system leading to closure of hundreds of engineering colleges across the country. Even those who pass out from these engineering colleges are utterly unemployable in the job market due to the poor quality of education they receive. Under the National Mission on Education through ICT (NMEICT), IIT Mumbai and IIT Kharagpur have taken up the “Train 10 thousand teachers” initiative with an aim to provide training to the engineering college teachers to improve their teaching skills in core engineering and science subjects. Already thousands of teachers have experienced the usefulness of this approach and over the next few years, this silent revolution could change the way education is imparted in engineering colleges across India.

How did these two IITs manage to do this experiment at such a massive scale? By doing away with the traditional class room teaching and by heavily deploying technology involving eLearning, animation, spoken tutorials, virtual labs, and Free and Open Source Software for Education (FOSSEE). NMEICT is a great example of how IITs have the willingness and the expertise to take up large scale experiments with a wide spread social impact even if these activities do not have a direct bearing on their own research output.  The exercise carried out by these two IITs is not a half-hearted cookie-cutter attempt but a radical reorganization of our approach towards social commitment.

In similar lines, the vocational education and training by IITs need necessarily to be done on a massive scale with a well thought out plan for execution, standards for training and evaluation, and measurable outcomes. The trick is unless we raise the expectations of what IITs can do, optimal results cannot be realized. The older IITs, after nearly half a century of their establishment, and also the newer IITs, have a historic opportunity today to impact the Indian society, particularly the socially and economically backward Indian youth to become job-ready and self-employable. Since such a move by IITs could lead to job creation to tens of thousands of Indians who cannot fit into the traditional college education, it is bound to positively impact the economic prosperity of India. Providing vocational education and training to the Indian youth, therefore, should be the next high social impact experiment that the IITs could consider on a priority basis. IITs can rope in the underutilized infrastructure available at hundreds of engineering colleges for this purpose since skill training involves hands on experience in the laboratories. Without involving IITs and the other higher educational institutes, which are the sources of skills, a task of this nature cannot succeed.

If thousands of young and aspiring Indians get transformed into skilled workers with new career opportunities opening-up and if this benefits their families and the Indian economy, would that not make IITs a source of pride for all the Indians?

Let us think about it.

MJK-photoMamidala Jagadesh Kumar is a Professor of Electrical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi, India. He is the Editor-in-Chief of IETE Technical Review and an Editor of IEEE Transactions on Electron Devices. He has widely published in the area of Micro/Nanoelectronics and is known for his excellence in Teaching.  He is a member (PT) of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). More details about Dr. Kumar can be found at http://web.iitd.ac.in/~mamidala

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Call drops in mobile wireless networks: Calling your attention

(To appear in Sept-Oct 2015 issue of IETE Technical Review)

After intense debates over net neutrality, the issue of call drops in mobile networks has now become a new burning topic in public discourse. Whether you have called another user or someone else has called you on your mobile phone, if the call is interrupted before the users decide to terminate the call, it is known as a call drop.  A dropped call directly affects the quality of service (QoS) that is expected to be maintained in a mobile wireless network.  Call drops are more worrisome than blocked calls since a call drop is no longer in the queue to re-establish the connection. The call drop rate (CDR) is, therefore, used as one of the essential figures of merit to measure the quality of service in mobile wireless networks.

Call drops are rare in fixed line networks. For most users, since the mobile wireless network is only an extension of the fixed line network, they expect the same quality of performance in mobile networks as in fixed line networks.  In future, this demand for improved quality of service will further increase as most people’s lives will revolve around services provided by the mobile wireless networks.

Every service provider in India furnishes, among other quality parameters, the monthly call drop data to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). Monthly data from most of these service providers indicated that the call drop rate is less than 2%, a limit prescribed by TRAI. If the call drop rate is less than 2% as claimed by the service providers, such a low call drop rate should not significantly affect the user experience. However, a nationwide outcry on frequent call drop complaints prompted TRAI to carry out their own measurements in two big cities – Mumbai and Delhi. To every one’s surprise, the data collected by TRAI showed a different picture – the call drop rates varied from 0.84 % – 17.29 % in Delhi and 0.97 % to 5.56 % in Mumbai among different service providers. Except for one out of six, all the five service providers crossed the 2% limit, some very significantly.  A similar situation could exist in other parts of the country.

In addition to the inconvenience caused to the user, the call drops will also lead to additional charges to the user since the user will attempt to call again to continue the conversation. Since nearly 41 % of the mobile users in India pay the charges on a per-minute-pulse rate, call drops will lead to an unnecessary financial burden to the user.  In per-minute-pulse scheme, the users have to pay even if they establish the connection for one or more seconds before the call drops. The user, therefore, is the sufferer. Even for the remaining 59% of the users, who use the pay-per-second scheme, it is not that call drops will only cause inconvenience but it will also lead to a monetary loss to the user since the user will spend more time during the follow-up call to compensate for the interrupted conversation. Such call drops can seriously undermine productivity and efficiency in professional dealings.

Call drops can typically be avoided if service providers take some measures such as optimal balancing of traffic among the different frequency layers, minimizing interference and congestion and maximizing the service area. Therefore, within the available spectrum, the quality of service in mobile networks can only be increased by improving the network infrastructure and by deploying technological solutions to minimize the call drops. However, TRAI has pointed out that while the minutes of usage by mobile users has grown by 6.8% during the last couple of years, the investments made by the service providers has only increased by 4.6 % during the same period barring the investments made to purchase the spectrum. This mismatch between usage growth and investments in network infrastructure needs to be bridged since the quality of service problem will boomerang in future as the mobile network user base increases.

While the service providers, hopefully, make efforts to improve their infrastructure, can something be done to help the consumers?

In a recent consultative paper, TRAI has posed two important questions, among others, to all the stake holders – consumers and the service providers.

  • Do you agree that calling consumers should not be charged for a call that got dropped within five seconds? In addition, if the call gets dropped any time after five seconds, the last pulse of the call (minute/second) which got dropped, should not be charged. Please support your viewpoint with reasons along with the methodologies for implementation.
  • Do you agree that calling consumer should also be compensated for call drops by the access service providers? If yes, which of the following methods would be appropriate for compensating the consumers upon call drop:
  1. Credit of talk-time in minutes/ seconds
  2. Credit of talk-time in monetary terms
  3. Any other method you may like to suggest

All of us should proactively come forward and provide our views and suggestions to help the regulator to form a policy so that consumer satisfaction is restored without any delay.


  1. http://www.trai.gov.in/
  2. Consultation Paper on Compensation to the Consumers in the Event of Dropped Calls. http://www.trai.gov.in/Content/news/71293_0.aspx

DSC_0013aMamidala Jagadesh Kumar is a Professor of Electrical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi, India. He is the Editor-in-Chief of IETE Technical Review and an Editor of IEEE Transactions on Electron Devices. He has widely published in the area of Micro/Nanoelectronics and is known for his excellence in teaching.  He is a member (PT), Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). More details about Dr. Kumar can be found at http://web.iitd.ac.in/~mamidala

Posted in Education and Research | 6 Comments

Smart cities with massive data centric living are hard to build without 5G networks

(To appear as an Editorial in IETE Technical Review, July/August 2015 issue.)

Today’s mobile devices (for example – smartphones, tablets, smart watches, smart bracelets, smart glasses etc.,) have a number of sensors embedded in them such as an accelerometer, compass, gyroscope, proximity sensor, and ambient light sensor, GPS sensor, barometer, step detector, step counter apart from the usual camera and the microphone. These sensors enable us easy access to motion data, ambient light strength, audio records, and the image of an ambient environment and so on, making our lives more comfortable and smart [1]. As technology advances more sensors will be integrated into these mobile devices. However, further innovations can be slowed down by two problems: (i) the computing and storage limitations of the mobile devices and (ii) the cellular network constraints.

Let us understand the first problem first. Since mobile devices have limited memory and computing resources, it is better to transfer these tasks to a cloud computing environment through a network interface [2]. After performing the computationally intensive tasks, the cloud server can return the information back to the mobile device. This is a clever idea since it will also save the mobile device from draining out its battery since the mobile device does not have to do the computationally demanding tasks.  If a large number of people use these mobile devices, which will be the case in a few years, the amount of data the cloud servers need to handle can become enormous. The technique that comes to our rescue in analysing and processing such huge data, which has variety, velocity and volume, is called Big data analysis. Future mobile devices, therefore, have to constantly keep talking with the cloud servers to transfer the data generated through their sensors and  this data need to be processed and analysed using Big data analysis [3].

Let us look at the second problem. This big data from mobile devices has to travel back and forth between the mobile device and the cloud using several network options available to us such as WiFi, cellular, or other network interfaces. Network bandwidth will, therefore, become the biggest challenge to be overcome. Network congestion in the existing network technologies (3G/4G) and the resulting drop in data transfer speeds has already become a major concern.  We, therefore, require a different kind of network infrastructure which can support this massive data and its propagation without any latency.

There is an additional trouble. Apart from the data generated by the mobile devices, the next source of enormous data will come from the smart cities and smart homes that we wish to build [4]. In a smart city, we need to provide e-governance which is expected to be not only easily accessible but also transparent and fast. But that is only one aspect of being a smart city. Energy and water conservation, efficient waste disposal, city automation, seamless facilities to travel and affordable access to health management systems are essential parts of a smart city. Traffic and weather also need to be monitored intelligently. Smart cities should be able to respond quickly to emergencies. Smart cities will also house smart energy aware homes with an ability to intelligently monitor and control lighting, security, and metering of power usage and generation. All this will require deployment of a large number of wireless sensors and devices which will generate a massive data. Handling this unprecedented data from the sensors and the data transmission between the devices and the cloud server requires a disruptive wireless technology [5]. That is the reason why we need the fifth generation (5G) networks with speeds an order of magnitude larger than that of the existing networks. This is required to handle the data traffic volumes which are expected to increase by a thousand fold by 2020.  A smart and intelligent globe is not possible without the 5G networks. Let us understand briefly about what makes the 5G networks achieve this objective of building an intelligent human society.

5G networks will have a huge band of spectrum, ranging from 30 GHz to 300 GHz since they use mmWave technologies. The wavelength of the signals in this technology is between 1 and 10 mm. This permits us to shift the wireless transmissions from the crowded spectral band of present generation wireless networks to a different band of spectrum [6]. However, waves in this band can easily be attenuated due to environmental factors. Therefore, mm waves are ideal for short-distance communications with the benefit of re-usage of frequencies in the mmWave band minimizing the problems of shortage in spectrum.

Another departure in 5G networks, compared to the conventional cellular networks, is the deployment of massive multiple-input–multi-output (MIMO) or ‘massive MIMO’ systems. Let us first understand the meaning of MIMO. When a radio wave bounces back and forth from walls, ceilings and other physical objects and reaches a single antenna at different times and angles, it can result in interference and affect the data transfer speed. However, in massive MIMO systems this property of radio waves is better utilized by using many smart antennas which act as multiple transmitters and receivers. This will enable us to transfer more data at the same time resulting in higher speeds [7]. The conventional MIMO becomes massive MIMO when several hundreds of antennas are deployed to serve tens of users simultaneously. A massive MIMO is upwardly scalable since by using a large number of antennas, throughput can be increased, radiated power can be reduced, and user experience in a given service area can be enhanced by a manifold, all using simple signal processing [8].

5G networks will employ new ways of carrying data. Even when the data becomes massive, users want faster data speeds. But this is related to the cell size, that is, the area covered by a cellular network. Depending on the area of coverage, cells are classified as Microcell (< 2 kilometres), Picocell (< 200 metres) and Femtocell (about 10 metres). One way to increase the data speed is to reduce the cell size so that cell capacity is shared by fewer users enabling them to transfer data at higher speeds. A future wireless network should be able to seamlessly interact with different cells and distributed antenna systems to enhance the cell coverage and delivery speeds. Such a network, termed as a heterogeneous network (HetNet), is the heart of 5G networks in which data transmission rates will vary widely (10 kbps to 10 Gbps), accepted delays can range from a fraction of a millisecond to a few seconds and online access requests could be from a few hundred to several million requests [9]. Unlike the conventional single tier wireless networks, the HetNet is, therefore, multi-tier in nature with an ability to function efficiently across multiple nodes with different transmit powers, coverage areas and radio access technologies (such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, 3G, and 4G or LTE ) [6].

While 5G networks provide ways to meet the future data volumes of a networked society, we do need to overcome an important challenge. When every device that can be connected to the internet is plugged to the 5G network, it leads to what is known as Internet-of-Things (IoT) [10]. If the devices in IoT are close to each other, the data traffic does not have to go through the base station reducing the burden on the cellular networks. Therefore, device to device (D2D) communication will be an essential part of IoT. However, as the devices connected to the wireless network may run into more than a 50 billion devices in near future and a majority of them may have to communicate not only among themselves but also with the cloud server, energy requirements will become a serious issue.  The 5G networks need to be run in a cost-effective and sustainable manner since their contribution to the global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions cannot be allowed to increase from the present levels. [11]. In addition, if energy requirements are not contained, the user tariffs can increase and the costs for running the networks will become untenable to the network operators making the business less attractive. 5G networks, therefore, should be energy efficient by increasing the number of bits that can be transmitted for each joule of energy consumed. But this is easier said than done [12].

As 5G networks become ubiquitous in our lives in future, securing massive amounts of data, which could be confidential and very sensitive, from eavesdroppers is another challenge that needs to be addressed.  The designers of 5G networks need to provide unsurpassed security to the data that seesaws through these networks [6]. Otherwise, entire cities or security installations can be brought to a standstill.

As the human race embraces the massive data centric living, the unique features of 5G networks (use of small cells, device-to-device communication, exploiting the mmWave frequency spectrum with GHz bandwidth and off-loading the computational intensive operations to cloud servers) will make the 5G networks an inevitable choice of our future cellular communications systems. How quickly we can build smart cities consisting of smart homes and smart individuals is, therefore, closely tied to how quickly the 5G networks evolve and become cost effective. We may have to wait until the beginning of next decade for this dream to be realized. When governments promise to build smart cities, we need to be aware that it is a long path ahead.


  1. Q. Han, S. Liang, and H. Zhang, “”Mobile Cloud Sensing, Big Data, and 5G Networks Make an Intelligent and Smart World”, IEEE Network, pp.40-45, March/April 2015.
  2. N. Zhang, N. Cheng, A. T. Gamage, K. Zhang, J. W. Mark and X. Shen, “Cloud assisted HetNets toward 5G wireless networks”, IEEE Communications Magazine, vol.53, no.6, pp.59-65, June 2015.
  3. IEEE Bigdata home: http://bigdata.ieee.org/
  4. IEEE Smart City home: http://smartcities.ieee.org/
  5. X. Shen, “Device-to-Device Communication in 5G Cellular Networks”, IEEE Network, pp.1-3, March/April 2015.
  6. N. Yang, L. Wang, G. Geraci, M. Elkashlan, J. Yuan and M. Di Renzo, “Safeguarding 5G Wireless Communication Networks Using Physical Layer Security”, IEEE Communications Magazine, vol.53, no.4, pp.20-27, April 2015.
  7. http://www.intel.com/support/wireless/sb/cs-025345.htm
  8. T. L. Marzetta, “MassiveMIMO: An introduction”, Bell Labs Technical Journal, vol.20, pp.11-22, 2015.
  9. A. Adhikary, H. S. Dhillon and G. Caire, “Massive-MIMO Meets HetNet: Interference Coordination Through Spatial Blanking”, IEEE Journal of Selected Areas in Communications, vol.33, no.6, pp.1171-1186, June 2015.
  10. Y. Ghamri-Doudan, R. Minerva, J. Lee and Y. M. Jing,”Special Issue on World Forum on Internet-of-Things Conference 2014″, IEEE Internet of Things Journal, vol.2, no.3, pp.187-188, June 2015.
  11. M. Olsson, C. Cavdar, P. Frenger, S. Tombaz, D. Sabella and R. Jantti, “5GrEEn: Towards Green 5G Mobile Networks”, 1st International Workshop on GReen Optimized Wireless Networks (GROWN’13), 2013, pp.2012-2016.
  12. G. Wu, C. Yang, S. Li and G. Y. Li, “Recent advances in energy-efficient networks and their application in 5G systems”, IEEE Wireless Communications, vol.22, no.2, pp.145-151, April 2015.

DSC_0013aMamidala Jagadesh Kumar is a Professor of Electrical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi, India. He is the Editor-in-Chief of IETE Technical Review and an Editor of IEEE Transactions on Electron Devices. He has widely published in the area of Micro/Nanoelectronics and is known for his excellence in Teaching.  He is a member(PT) of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. More details about Dr. Kumar can be found at http://web.iitd.ac.in/~mamidala

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The Pay or Perish Game: Why we should stand up against “active discrimination” for the survival of net neutrality

How to cite: M. J. Kumar, “The Pay or Perish Game: Why we should stand up against ‘active discrimination’ for the survival of net neutrality”, IETE Technical Review, Vol.32, No.3, pp.161-163, May-June 2015.

With rapid technological innovations, the internet has, in a short period, grown into a disruptive social force today. The internet has different layers: the content layer (supported by people who develop the content and the applications), the logical layer (consisting of machines which function using algorithms, protocols and standards for the transmission of data packets) and the physical layer (consisting of end point devices such as computers, smart phones and tablets). Two types of people use the internet. Those who simply access the internet for information and the other who develop innovative services and applications using the internet as a medium. The network operators or internet service providers invest in the internet infrastructure consisting of switching and transmission abilities.

There are three primary means to access internet: wireline, wireless and satellite options.  Satellite internet option is least preferred because it is expensive and is no good for ordinary folks like you and me. In wireline option, one can use either a pair of twisted copper wires or a fiber optic network.  Copper telephone lines are too slow when used to access broadband internet. This problem is solved to some extent by using optical fiber up to the neighbourhood node and distributing the signal from the node to the user using the copper lines. But this heterogeneous network can never be a substitute for an all fiber optic network. The experience of accessing broadband internet using a single strand of fiber is unmatched.  Fiber optic networks not only have large data rates (100 Gbytes/s) but are also symmetric i.e. they offer equal speeds either for uploading or downloading.

In the recent past, with the advent of low cost smart mobile phones and tablets, accessing the internet using the wireless or cellular data networks has become a convenient and easy option. Being connected while you are mobile feels great. It is therefore not surprising that globally, the number of mobile-connected devices exceeded the world’s population in 2014. A tenfold increase is expected in the global mobile data traffic between 2014 and 2019. This represents a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 57 % from 2014 to 2019. “Smart” devices will be more than 50 % of all devices hooked to the mobile network by 2019.  In India, between 2013 and 2014, the mobile data traffic has increased anywhere from 75 % to 95 % depending on the network operator [1].

Irrespective of the means you use to connect to the internet, the fundamental aspect of internet is its openness which permits equal opportunity of access leading to unbridled freedom to express and to listen. Net neutrality refers to the ability of users to freely choose services and to access the information made available by the content providers [2].  However, internet service providers have the means to cherry-pick services and applications leading to service discrimination [3]. While it is the legitimate right of the network operators to charge the users for the amount of data consumed (e.g. 2 or 3 Gegabytes per month), the issue becomes complicated when they start examining the data packets passing through their networks with an intention to discriminate one user from the other or one traffic destination from the other. This gives them the ability to prioritise or de-prioritise the users and points of traffic origin and destination selectively for commercial reasons rather than technical performance [4]. Since internet service providers are tempted to maximize their profits by prioritising the services, it can lead to selfish behaviors destroying the neutral nature of the internet. This concern is the core of the “network neutrality” debate [5].

Professor Susan Crawford of Harvard Law School, who has written a thought provoking book on the future of high-speed Internet access, believes that if net neutrality disappears the high-speed internet will be accessible only to the rich since it will be beyond the means of most of us [6]. Intense debates about the sustenance of net neutrality have originally been associated with wireline networks in European Union (EU) and the United States.  However, in the recent past, net neutrality in wireless or cellular mobile networks has become a passionately debated topic, particularly in countries like India and elsewhere. Net neutrality is a complex issue in the mobile internet when compared to the wired internet due to both technical reasons and the way the mobile network sector has evolved during the last decade [7].

Wireless networks will never be able to provide the capacity even remotely near that of fiber optic networks, as capacity constraints are intrinsic to the former. Even a migration from 3G to 4G networks will only improve the mobile network capacity by approximately three times. As a result, with the number of mobile users growing, the capacity constraints will ultimately make the wireless networks more crammed when compared to the wireline networks. Until we reach the point of congestion, all the packets of data that pass through the network operators’ servers can be treated equally i.e. what comes in first will go out first irrespective of their origin or destination. This is called the “best efforts system” [8]. In this system, each user gets a momentary access to the maximum bandwidth of the channel using statistical multiplexing. On an average, therefore, no user feels that their experience of using the network is compromised.

It is important to note that  net neutrality should not be misinterpreted as ““every packet must be treated identically.” The network should be indiscriminate with regard to the origin or destination of the data packets. However, based on the need, to take care of the congestion and to provide a fair access to the network resources, the operator can shape the traffic or even drop the data packets [9]. Network operators, therefore, routinely use a technology solution called ‘‘Needs-based discrimination’’ to beat the finite capacity of the network. In this scheme, certain data packets jump the queue and come to the front to deal with the congestion. Without this discrimination, latency sensitive data such as VOIP or media player applications can be affected, impairing the user experience.

However, what is worrisome and what can seriously affect net neutrality is not the “needs based discrimination” but the “active discrimination” of data packets by the network operators. In “active discrimination”, operators can give priority to certain data packets even if the network is not congested. This prioritisation can be based on a prior financial arrangement with an application or content provider. An application provider, therefore, can get preferential treatment by entering into a commercial agreement with a network operator. In a wireless network, it can lead to a very undesirable situation due to capacity constraints.

As an example, let us assume that two thirds of the network operator’s capacity is consumed by a small number of service or application providers, with a financial might for availing the active discrimination. Since the wireless network capacity is limited, the other majority users have to scramble to use the remaining one third of the network capacity.  As a result, the less fortunate application providers or start-up entrepreneurs who cannot pay for this active discrimination will be poorly visible to the internet users.  This preferential access to the wireless internet to the application and service providers with deep pockets can lead to an indirect control of the internet by the network operators. In addition, in a discriminatory regime, since the advertising revenue will always be attractive to the network operators, they may abandon their neutral role and degrade the quality of the non-priority lane to mine greater profits from the priority lanes [10].

Until a technological breakthrough takes place to enhance the wireless network capacity, the “needs based discrimination” of data packets may continue to be an essential part of wireless internet to enhance the user experience. No one should have any complaints about it. However, it is the “active discrimination” of users by the network operators for monetary gains that is detrimental to the very survival of neutral internet.

The question that needs our attention, therefore, is: should the network operators be given a free hand to run the network the way they want ultimately leading to a highly discriminatory and non-neutral internet? If the operators gain complete control of the wireless internet and become discriminatory, will the wireless internet, still remain a social force of unrestrained information exchange as it is today? Will it still encourage and nurture innovative new entrepreneurs and application developers? The answers to these questions should be clear to you by now.

Shouldn’t we, therefore, as academicians and scientists, stand up and use all our legitimate means to stop this “active discrimination” and protect the net neutrality?


  1. http://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/solutions/collateral/service-provider/visual-networking-index-vni/white_paper_c11-520862.html
  2. J. S. Gans, “Weak versus strong net neutrality”, Journal of Regulatory Economics, vol.47, pp.183–200, 2015.
  3. J. Crowcroft, “Net neutrality: the technical side of the debate: a white paper,” ACM SIGCOMM Computer Communication Review, vol. 37, no. 1, pp. 49–56, 2007.
  4. R. T. B. Ma, D. M. Chiu, J. C. S. Lui, V. Misra, and D. Rubenstein,”On Cooperative Settlement Between Content, Transit, and Eyeball Internet Service Providers,” IEEE/ACM Transactions on Networking, vol.19, no.3, pp.802-815, June 2011.
  5. R. T. B. Ma and V. Misra, “The Public Option: A Nonregulatory Alternative to Network Neutrality”, IEEE/ACM Transactions on Networking, vol.21, no.6, pp.1866-1879, December 2013.
  6. http://scrawford.net/blog/
  7. D. Miorandi, I. Carreras, E. Gregori, I. Graham and J. Stewart, “Measuring Net neutrality in Mobile Internet: Towards a Crowdsensing-based Citizen Observatory”, 2013 IEEE International Conference on Communications 2013: Workshop on Beyond Social Networks: Collective Awareness, pp.199.
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Posted in Education and Research | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Global University Rankings: What should India do?

How to cite: M. J. Kumar, “Global University Rankings: What should India do?”, IETE Technical Review, vol.32, no.2, pp.81-83, March-April, 2015.

Before 1983, until the first university ranking in the world was published in U.S. News and World Report, the term “University rankings” was not taken very seriously. But more than a quarter century later, after the first university rankings were announced, India now keenly wants to be part of these rankings. What has changed during these years? With growing economic developments and increasing aspirations, the Indian public seek to know the inside functioning and operational efficiency of our higher educational institutes and universities. Since resources to the universities are made available through tax-payer’s money, it is also the responsibility of the universities to let the public know what is being achieved with these resources. The fact that Indian universities do not find their place among the top universities in the world has become a cause of intense public debate.

But the question is: should we compete to get a ‘respectable’ place in the world rankings or should we have a ranking system suitable to our country? Any ranking system we adopt should enhance the credibility of universities in the eyes of the general public leading to increased public confidence and trust. The Indian universities, like the other 15000 universities in the world, have national obligations to perform. One of the important commitments of a university is to provide equal access to higher education even if the university fails to get into the “global rankings” [1]. However, there is enough evidence to show that higher education has of late become a preserve of the elite. Global rankings have exacerbated the inequalities in deciding who can access good quality higher education [1 – 3]. Let us briefly see what has gone wrong.

We have several widely known ranking systems such as (i) Times Higher Education World University (THE) Rankings, (ii) QS (Quacquarelli Symonds) World University Rankings, (iii) Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), also known as the Shanghai Jiao Tong University Ranking, and (iv) Webometrics Ranking. All these ranking methods do have serious shortcomings [1]. Even the most popular ranking schemes cover only less than 5 % of all the universities in the world. THE and QS rankings give heavy weightage to reputational ranking through online surveys often with a strong bias towards English speaking countries. ARWU and THE use data from Thompson Reuters while QS uses data from Scopus (which is from Elsevier) making these rankings rely heavily on publications and citations in science based journals. Humanities and social sciences remain unrepresented in most ranking schemes. Universities with a main focus in these two areas, therefore, do not figure in the rankings. Rankings are also affected by the ability of universities to garner large endowments exceeding even the national budgets of some countries. The presence of Nobel laureates and Field medal winners who publish in the so-called elite science journals further influence these ratings.

Surprisingly, educational experience and learning outcomes of the students are not surveyed by most ranking schemes. This is a major omission since education is the primary objective of the universities [1]. They completely ignore if the teaching-learning practices in a university are of the highest order while its professors are researchers and unpretentious experts in a wide variety of fields including science. The global ranking schemes, therefore, only manufacture a fancy perception about a university’s reputation rather than represent its true functioning. This makes higher education a sellable commodity to the advantage of a few elite.

We tend to forget that assigning a numerical rank to a university, to measure its performance unfortunately deflects our attention from a university’s fundamental function i.e. education. Periodically, a university’s functioning should be audited. But this should be only to ensure quality of performance and accountability. Evaluation of a university should not degenerate into a single number for public display [1]. Even Indian media has started releasing the rankings of Indian universities but frequently with hilarious outcomes. That is because most media personnel neither understand the nuances of mathematics involved in ranking [1] nor appreciate the complexity of diversities intrinsic to the functioning of a university.

Why is it not desirable to assign a number to a university’s performance? Well, it reinforces the false impression that universities are like corporate entities who are expected to satisfy the consumer interests. Ranking, together with marketing and public relations, has made global higher education a marketable commodity [4]. As a result, by 2025, nearly eight million students are expected to study outside their countries. A bulk of these students come from China, India and other neighbouring countries. India is the second largest exporter of students to foreign universities. The beneficiaries are invariably the universities in English speaking countries [1].

It is estimated that to be in the “world class” of the rankings, a university’s budget must be 1.5 to 2 billion US dollars per year which is beyond the means of many universities in countries like India [5].  University rankings are also mired in controversies due to the fact that many a times, rankings could be influenced by made-up, dicey and false data. When we trust the rankings, rather than professional integrity and peer regulation to evaluate a university’s excellence, this can lead to undesirable results. We must remember that “when universities openly and increasingly pursue commercialization, it powerfully legitimizes and reinforces the pursuit of economic self-interest by students and contributes to the widespread sense among them that they are in college solely to gain career skills and credentials” [1], [6].

University rankings also have affected the administrators, parents and students on ‘what we choose to do, who we try to be, and what we think of ourselves’ in higher education [1], [7].  The use of rankings is now increasingly being seen by many countries as an indirect way of pressurising the universities into “a costly and high-stakes academic arms race” instead of focussing more on the immediate developmental and social needs of a country [8]. Rankings have simply become aids to the potential ‘customers’ who have financial resources to access these highly ranked elite universities [9]. University rankings in general are not neutral methods. They are influenced by politico-ideological technologies to exclude or include a university into the elite club. Rankings, therefore, assign a hierarchized social identity to the university. This substitution of quest for excellence by ultra-eliteness results in a greater stratification and concentration of resources forcing the less fortunate universities into an un-recoverable cycle of disadvantage [10].

This makes the global university rankings notoriously untrustworthy and unsuitable for countries like India. Therefore, even before India thinks of getting into global university rankings, it needs to develop a credible and transparent ranking system which reflects India’s social and national requirements. What are these requirements?

We should recall that universities are public-interest entities [1]. Public trust in a university and its reputation, therefore, depend on the social impact the university makes.  Social impact is directly related to the quality of the talent or skill training provided to the students in a university who will in turn become the back bone of the work force. India today requires a huge skilled work force. How well are our universities prepared to meet this challenge?  To give an example, nearly a million students write the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE) every year to try their luck in getting admission into post-graduate education. However, on an average, only about 15 – 17 % of the candidates qualify in this exam each year. This is a clear indication of the poor quality of educational training they have received in their undergraduate level courses. Our universities have largely failed in talent training and skill development. Their indifference has only made their moral standing weaker in public perception.

We should not lose sight of the fact that a university is not a commercial entity but a place of higher learning, conducting teaching and research at the undergraduate and postgraduate level [9]. Therefore, it is imperative that India should develop an India specific ranking system, which is both transparent and reliable, to assess the performance of Indian universities. This should be based on, for example, (i) the care universities provide in making higher education accessible even to the most under privileged, (ii) the skill or talent training that a university imparts to the students so that they become agents of social and economic transformation, (iii) how well the universities encourage the ability to think in an unorthodox fashion and carry out original research in different fields, (iv) the ability of a university to develop technologies relevant to the local social needs and human development, and so on.

Every few years, drawing from our experience and from other countries which are not in the business of commercializing higher education, we should keep improving our ranking system to advance the academic excellence of the Indian universities. If we focus on the core objectives of our universities i.e. teaching and research, it will not be too far away when we will be talking about the excellence of Indian universities rather than their rankings. When Indian universities become known for their excellence, they should be in a position to attract students and best intellects from across the world, in turn improving their global prestige and recognition. If we can transform our higher educational institutes into great universities for their knowledge and social commitment, what else do we want? Do you agree with me?


  1. K. Lynch, “Control by numbers: new managerialism and ranking in higher education”, Critical Studies in Education, 2014, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17508487.2014.949811
  2. T. McCowan, “Is there a universal right to higher education?” British Journal of Educational Studies, vol. 60(2), pp.111–128, 2012.
  3. K. Lynch, B. Grummell and D. Devine, New managerialism in education: Gender, commercialization and carelessness, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.
  4. J. Rutherford, “Cultural studies in the corporate university”, Cultural Studies, vol.19(3), pp.297–317, 2005.
  5. E. Hazelkorn, Rankings and the reshaping of higher education: The battle for world class excellence, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, p.197, 2011.
  6. I. Harkavy, “The role of universities in advancing citizenship and social justice in the 21st century”, Education, Citizenship and Social Justice, vol.1(1), pp.5–37, 2006.
  7. I. Hacking, The taming of chance, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
  8. I. Ordorika and M. Lloyd, “International rankings and the contest for university hegemony”, Journal of Education Policy, 2014, DOI: 10.1080/02680939.2014.979247.
  9. P. Taylor and R. Braddock, “International University Ranking Systems and the Idea of University Excellence”, Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, vol. 29(3), pp.245-260, 2007.
  10. S. S. Amsler and C. Bolsmann, “University ranking as social exclusion”, British Journal of Sociology of Education, vol. 33(2), pp.283-301, 2012.
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A Silicon Biristor with Reduced Operating Voltage: Proposal and Analysis

In this paper, using 2D simulations, we report a silicon biristor with reduced operating voltage using the surface accumulation layer transistor (SALTran) concept. The electrical characteristics of the proposed SLATran biristor are simulated and compared with that of a conventional silicon biristor with identical dimensions. The proposed device is optimized with respect to the device parameters to ensure a reasonable latch window while maintaining low latch voltages. Our results demonstrate that the SALTran biristor exhibits a latch-up voltage of 2.14 V and a latch-down voltage of 1.68 V leading to a 57% lower operating voltage compared to the conventional silicon biristor.

The paper is freely downloadable from IEEE Journal of Electron Devices Society

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Vertical Bipolar Charge Plasma Transistor with Buried Metal Layer

A self-aligned vertical Bipolar Charge Plasma Transistor (V-BCPT) with a buried metal layer between undoped silicon and buried oxide of the silicon-on-insulator substrate, is reported in this paper. Using two-dimensional device simulation, the electrical performance of the proposed device is evaluated in detail. Our simulation results demonstrate that the V-BCPT not only has very high current gain but also exhibits highBVCEO · fT product making it highly suitable for mixed signal high speed circuits. The proposed device structure is also suitable for realizing doping-less bipolar charge plasma transistor using compound semiconductors such as GaAs, SiC with low thermal budgets. The device is also immune to non-ideal current crowding effects cropping up at high current densities.

You can download the full paper from http://www.nature.com/srep/2015/150119/srep07860/full/srep07860.html


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