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India’s digital future hinges on optical fibre

A 16-year-old Shrini uses Google Translate on her smartphone to interact with the foreign tourists who visit her father’s shop in Meghalaya. Her ability to converse with foreigners in their language has brought more business. Shrini is not alone in using technology to better her life and work. From doctors using technology to extend healthcare to remote regions to dairy farmers using cloud and mobility to monitor their cows’ health and milk output, India has come a long way in technology adoption.

Optical fibre has played its part in India’s digital progress
The country currently has more than 700 million active Internet users and is the second biggest mobile market in the world. With the explosion in data traffic from all sources, there has been a need for a transmission medium capable of handling higher bandwidth require­ments. Optical fibre has emerged as the most feasible solution to this requirement and has seen greater adoption in the last decade. It has proved to be a significant building block in the digital infrastructure of India.

But, 2020 changed India’s digital appetite
Last year was the most definitive of India’s journey as a digital economy. With millions of citizens taking to the Internet for work, education, recreation, and whatnot, data consumption rocketed to great levels. We witnessed a significant spike in uploads and downloads per user. According to ACT Fibernet’s State of Internet Traffic Trend report, the average uploads increased by 37 percent per month for every user. At the same time, the average downloads surged by 66 percent per user per month. Currently, India has over 500 million daily Internet users.

There has been a surge of use cases in all sectors, making digital transformation a top priority for most CIOs. These use cases need new networks that are immensely dense and bring together the power of Compute and Connectivity, of Wired and Wireless, and of Software and Hardware – the confluence of many desirables at one time. All these key trends are based on hyperscale connectivity and low latency for which fibre offers the most optimal technological solution.

Now, India needs a much higher fibre diet
The next decade will see optical fibre playing an even more crucial role in creating a more connected India. Fibre will help the country address the inconsistencies in digital connectivity and can unlock several opportunities and possibilities. There could be better access to healthcare and education for everyone; the workforce could be skilled more than ever; job opportunities could be created; start-up and entrepreneurship ecosystems could be bigger. The potential is endless.

India’s current per capita fibre coverage stands at 0.09 fibre km as compared to 0.87 fibre km for China and 1.3 fibre km for Japan and the U.S. As data consumption continues to increase, deep fiberisation becomes essential for ubiquitous connectivity.

Also, for 5G to succeed, India will need our fibre backhaul for tower connectivity to go from the ~30 percent to 80 percent level in the next 1-2 years. India not only needs Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH), but the current scenario demands Fibre-to-the-Anything (FTTX). For instance, fibre-based broadband connectivity for enterprises means more reliability, higher speed, and lower latency.

Fiberisation will also pave the way for rural broadband to be more widespread and accessible. According to Deloitte, the broadband penetration in India’s rural areas is 29.1 percent against national average of 51 percent with over 700 million subscribers.

Fiberization is happening, but it needs a renewed approach
The Indian optical fibre market is attaining good traction and expanding to various regions in the country. The Indian optical fibre market stood at USD 881.5 million in 2019 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 19.7 percent to reach USD 2.1 billion by 2024. Telecom operators are scrambling to maintain the service quality level and looking for innovative solutions, especially in the wired broadband segment. The government too has stepped on the accelerator as far as fibre deployment is concerned. BharatNet and Ghar Tak Fibre are testaments to the increased efforts.

This results in an exponential growth in the demand for optical fibre, and associated materials worldwide. Adequate fibre connectivity can catapult the success of all government digital infra initiatives and ensure access to high-speed broadband for a large set of population.

However, there still needs to be a comprehensive, end-to-end approach toward optical fibre deployment that encompasses each aspect of the process, right from optical fibre products and sub-system kits to network design and network maintenance and upgradation. This end-to-end approach will not only lead to a faster, efficient and cost-effective rollout of networks; it would also make the networks future-ready to leverage new technologies such as 5G, FTTH and XGS-PON.

Next-gen optic fiber can give that edge to our network
Today’s global businesses demand faster, more secure, and larger capacity communication systems for their network operations. Fiber optic technology is expected to play a major part in this growth. Not only in enterprises but also in residential applications, fiber optic cable assemblies are playing an increasingly vital role. Networks today are changing with new imperatives like densification, deep fiberisation, vendor neutrality, and edge computing. To stay ahead of this unprecedented change and increasing data demand, operators need to roll out future-ready, high-capacity networks at a fast pace. This translates into a need to put more fibre in the already available duct infrastructure and requires considerable de-skilling of field installations to speed up deployments.

Although an optical fibre is as thin as a human hair, it is often seen as an elixir for communications technology. STL, with its 25 years of experience in optical technologies has designed optical fibre/cable products which will give a definite edge to our networks. For example – Stellar Fibre which is bend resistant, will shape the future of fibre to the home. Celesta – a fibre cable that we have recently launched has 6912 fibres and will power high capacity 5G deployments. These specialised products, engineered with precision will enable the future of connectivity.

Time is right for fibre to be in India’s being
India’s geographical and socio-economic spread is both our strength and our weakness. It makes the digital transformation process more complex than anywhere else in the world. But, where Western countries and even some Asian ones have reached the maximum digital saturation, we are only scratching the surface here. The first four years of the Digital India program were about laying the foundations of a digital future. We now know the potential for development and growth that digital technologies can help unlock, and we are hungry for more. The time is ripe for taking this journey ahead, and we have a government whose futuristic vision is focused on moving it to the next level.

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