The recently concluded spectrum auction gave us all an insight into the minds of the telco operators who clearly chose to strengthen their current portfolio with respect to the spectrum that they have and a part of it is set aside for the future need for upgradation to 5G. In future a large amount of bandwidth will be required by 5G on account of all the next generation technologies supported by it and a part of this bandwidth requirement will be served by spectrum and majority by optical network. Enhanced mobile broadband providing higher data rate of 10GB per second required for supporting technologies like augmented reality and virtual reality & delivering high definition, high performance video and audio, massive machine type communication wherein an enormous number of devices will be connected to the central office and will be chattering with each other e.g. driverless cars, connected vehicles, smart homes etc. will necessarily need a dense fiber network to provide desired bandwidth. Extremely reliable, low latency communication supported by 5G will fuel technologies like remote medical services, remotely monitored surgeries, traffic monitoring and control of autonomous vehicles and will also need lot of data to be transferred between the devices to the central offices, data centers and the backbone network.
However, it will take time for all these technologies to develop and get users but eventually they will bring a revolution in telecom and optical fiber will be the main data transport backbone of the network. The spectrum enhancement choice clearly demonstrates that the telco’s want to augment their network scale and fiberization is the only answer that not only improves their current network performance but also future proofs their network for the eventual roll out of 5G.
The operators have long been asking the Department of Telecommunications on a reduction of the base price of the airwaves, giving a clear indication that there is additional investment that is required to enable the services on the spectrum that they acquire. With the Union Government allocating `14200 crore for telecom infrastructure and development of mobile and broadband services, the push is definitely on to scale up services as well. Key policy shifts and increased FDI limits in telecom have also attracted revived interest in the telecom marketplace with several key global players keen to be a part of this growth story.
Need for 5G & India status
While 5G is still in its nascent stage in India, a lot needs to be done if we are to achieve the desired standards for the optimal use of this technology. Spectrum allocation is one thing, network architecture remains a challenge for most Indian operators as of now. High reliability on radio-based equipment and low fiber connectivity among the existing base stations is something that needs to be addressed immediately.
While 5G promises to deliver low latency, high bandwidth and 99.99 percent network availability, the task is clearly well defined. Except the remote rugged terrains of our country, India is in a great position to leverage this opportunity and develop a world class telecom infrastructure that will drive growth at levels beyond imagination. With the unrelenting COVID-19 forcing more people to work from home and depend on their mobile or fixed-line internet connection, the existing infrastructure is already spread too thin.
With growing demand and a sizeable customer base, India has a lot going for driving the sector forward. As per a recent TRAI report, Indian consumers rank no. 1 globally in data consumption and rank no. 2 for telecom subscriptions and app downloads. A key figure in all this is the tele-density that jumped from 18.23 percent in FY16 to 87.37 percent in FY20.
While the consumer side of the business looks promising for the operators, India will soon leap into the era where true scale enterprise networks will begin to take shape and a whole new world of possibilities will emerge from these networks. From automated, high performance manufacturing in aerospace and defense sectors to the private satellite launches by international agencies, telecom will have its role in almost all industries in the near future. Key drivers established by the government such as Connect India, which aims to connect 600,000 villages of India, expects to attract investment of USD 100 billion in the digital communications sector.
The Optical Transport Puzzle
It is widely estimated that by the end of 2025, there will be over 6.5 million 5G base stations across the world, which will put the focus sharply on high quality optical fiber cable manufacturing and its performance. The cable used for rollout of 5G should be capable enough to take all the future load on the network. Most operators and network deployment companies along with OFC manufacturers around the world have been trying to get the right product mix for this new technology and different parts of the optical transport network. OFC manufacturers are also investing heavily in their R&D capabilities to develop high fiber count compact designed products with superior optical performance and capability to provide connectivity between complex data centers environment. Another interesting aspect of the 5G network deployment is the balance between indoor and outdoor networks. As the network performance has to be seamless across various topographies; the optical fiber cable designed for outdoor and indoor environment should offer ease of deployment to the contractors and higher optical performance for the user. Indoor cabling solutions will open an entire new range of opportunities for system integrators and product manufacturers alike.
The Policy Game-Changer: Make in India and PLI scheme
With nearly `12200 crore being approved by the Digital Communications Commission, the highest executive body of the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), has opened its gates to the world to lure more foreign manufacturers to Make in India. This program which not only aims to solidify the manufacturing capabilities of the country, is also a way to reduce the import bills, which the telecom sector is no stranger to. High import tariffs have haunted the industry for decades now and even threatened to stall the progress of the sector due to low indigenous manufacturing. Things however, are different today from what they were at the turn of the century. The program aims to boost the manufacturing of core transmission equipment, 4G/5G and next-generation radio access network and wireless equipment, access and customer premise equipment (CPE), Internet of Things (IoT) access devices and enterprise equipment such as switches and routers. With additional policy frameworks, the government is ensuring that the benefits are not polarized and are able to reach the bottom of the pyramid.
The BharatNet program is one such prime example, which is leading the way for unified internet access and rural broadband mission of the country. This foresight and drive are something that have not yet been witnessed in the country and I am sure these are very interesting times to be in the optical transport and telecommunications business.