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2020: The year of a fundamental shift – Vodafone Idea is ready for new modes of living and working

2020 is turning out to be a momentous year. The pandemic will leave behind permanent shift in the society, be it e-commerce, work, education, or entertainment. The world will change forever after this pandemic, which will imply a new business environment for us to operate in. Work-from-anywhere will come across geographies and industries. Many companies will look at that and change their HR policies. Technology will be the enabler for the new normal. It will create new opportunities for business and will lead to a true digital society. The role telcos will play in this will be huge. It will no longer be a connectivity layer, but a platform for the digital society.

In a country that already has one of the highest data usage per smartphone globally, increased online activity has meant immense pressure on mobile networks. There are no happy hours on mobile internet anymore. Busy hours have extended to most of the day, every day, with majority of the traffic emanating from residential areas. We have seen a rise in internet demand from every part of the country, including rural India.

Ready for the new normal
The world’s largest network integration undertaken by Vodafone Idea over the last year gave it more capacity headroom, as did some of its latest technology deployments, making the utilization of spectrum far more efficient. Within the first 3–4 weeks of the lockdown, VIL added more than 66,000 cells with more capacity to its network. We were able to do that because of the spectrum advantage we have. Today, we have more than 12,000 ma-MIMOs deployed across the country, the largest deployment in India. This has helped us in these times of pandemic. Wherever possible, we are deploying 900 MHz spectrum on sites to facilitate better indoor experience and enhanced network speed. We continue to augment capacity to add capacity in our networks to accommodate the enormous amount of traffic growth that we have experienced over the past two months.

In order to accommodate all these great changes, our teams have been out there in the field to make sure that we make our network strong…we add capacity, whenever there are problems to address them quickly. Our field engineers are no less than paramedics ensuring oxygen supply is not disrupted! These are very trying times because what is affecting the communities that we serve is also affecting us and our families – the risks are the same. Yet, our people are making those very conscious choices to be out there, and make sure our networks stay strong.

The new normal world
One of the perceptible changes in the way this pandemic has altered the way we live, is that people have become more aware about digital way of life to maintain hygiene and prevent the spread of virus.

Consumers are now looking for zero-touch service and digital connect across spectrum. This is a significant opportunity for the telecom industry. We need to drive more intelligence in our business and networks. We have to anticipate and cater to consumer’s needs. We have to take our RPAs (robotic process automation) to the next level for this.

Some of the other key digital transformations that the pandemic has thrown up are in the areas of:

  • Work from anywhere;
  • Contactless payments;
  • Remote education – With teleconnections, industry will change in a fundamental way;
  • Entertainment – People have discovered new ways of entertainment;
  • Tele-medicine – People will have more remote sessions with doctors;
  • More emphasis on provenance and chain of custody of goods will create great opportunity for blockchain; and
  • Digital enterprises by small, medium, and large enterprises.

To be ready for our customer needs of the future, digital, cloud, and analytics are inseparable.

VIL has a nice sweet spot – in cloud services. Many enterprises will find it a valuable offering. Vodafone Idea is one of the leading operators in the world in this space.

Cloud has been an essential part of our integration and transformation journey to build a technology company of the future, which will help us transform business and create capabilities that will give us a leapfrog. We needed to build cloud based on open systems.

In last two years we have deployed India’s largest edge-cloud deployment with 80+ distributed cloud locations across the country, thereby transforming our vision of building a universal cloud that not only carries the traditional telco workloads but also carries IT and enterprise offerings for our customers.

We continue to extend the concept of open systems and architecture into other domains such as transport and radio.

Open RAN and Whitebox routers are some of the initiatives we continue to develop as part of our journey to create an open system-based network of the future. We had piloted Open RAN in 2017, and are now commercially live on multiple cell sites since December 2019.

Additionally, we are in the midst of deploying Whitebox routers in our network to carry commercial traffic. All these initiatives are helping us create a technology infrastructure with a substantially reduced cost while, at the same time, creating many more business opportunities. I believe that telecom has an incredibly important and essential role in building the Digital India. It is upon us as an industry to create the infrastructure that lets 1.35 billion people in India to connect to the internet and thrive in the digital world. Universal cloud, Open RAN, and Whitebox routers are key technologies in this journey.