Telecom Lead India: Himanshu Agarwal, Product Marketing at Tejas Networks, says wireline infrastructure is key to delivering broadband services in the country.
India has gone through one telecom revolution over the last decade and is on the cusp of another.
While the first phase of telecom growth was driven by voice services, the next phase is data dominated.
High speed broadband and connectivity everywhere has become the most basic requirement for today’s cloud centric applications. While India has a healthy demand for high speed broadband services, the availability is limited to a few metros. Hence India is sitting on a huge pent up demand for these services. The pricing also tends to be not affordable to all strata of society. All this should change with
the rollout of BWA services over 4G/LTE technology which is expected to see large scale rollouts by telecom service providers this year.
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One area that should not be ignored is the need for a wireline infrastructure. Wireline infrastructure, and especially optic fiber technology forms the backbone of today’s telecom networks and 95 percent of all kinds of services, from fixed-line telephony to 2G, 3G, 4G mobile, broadband or enterprise connectivity eventually lands on an optic fiber network. This is irrespective of the last mile technology used, whether it’s fixed line copper, DSL, 2G, 3G, 4G or microwave based.
While mobile services like 4G/LTE can be rolled out relatively quickly, since it can be done by installing 4G equipment over existing cell towers, developing the wireline infrastructure is both time consuming
and an expensive activity. A major part of the costs for wireline come from two sources: one the labour costs for digging and laying the cables, and second the right-of-way charges. Hence proper investments
have to be made early and these projects need to be planned years in advance. Without these the networks cannot be scaled for hundreds of services and millions of subscribers expected on broadband networks.
The good thing is that once the optic fiber cable is laid, it has a shelf life of a few decades, since the same fiber can be used to offer higher and higher speeds by changing the transmission technology and telecom equipment at both ends of the fiber without needing to re-invest in the fiber plant. Apart from offering virtually unlimited bandwidth, transmission over optic fiber is more reliable,
since it’s not affected by electromagnetic interference, weather etc.
Also the signal losses in a fiber are very low, due to which data can be transmitted over very long distances without regeneration.
Due to these advantages it’s already the medium of choice for national long distance and international connectivity, and over the last decade has found it’s way into the metros as well. However we still have
a long way to go to get fiber to reach every mobile base station (Only about 25 percent of India’s mobile base stations are served by fiber), and to every home (Fiber To The Home or FTTH).
Since laying fiber is capital intensive, operators need clear revenue models to justify investments on fiber. While there is enough market and revenue potential in India for high speed broadband services,
operators are skeptical about how fast and when these services will pick up, and due to this many operators are delaying investments in this part of the infrastructure.
Another big factor impeding the growth of fiber plant is right of way charges. Currently these charges are controlled by municipal bodies or state governments, and unreasonably high rates for right-of-way will impede the growth of wireline infrastructure and in turn the availability and penetration of broadband services in that city or state. Support from the government will be needed to rationalize and regulate these charges. Also, since optic fibers offer virtually unlimited bandwidths and can support multiple operators at once, a policy framework from the government for sharing of this fiber
infrastructure will go a long way in optimizing the costs of delivering these services to end users.
Also focus should also be put on putting optic fiber in the last mile (FTTH) to deliver wireline broadband services to end users . The quality of service and the speeds on FTTH will be a lot better compared
to wireless infrastructure. Also with wireline connectivity there’s no spectrum congestion (network congestion due to a large number of users sharing the same limited spectrum). A reliable wired broadband is the preferred service for premium home users, who do HD video telephony (enabled through applications like Skype) with family and friends, require Video on demand/ Youtube or do online gaming. It is also a key requirement for applications like tele-medicine.
Wired broadband is also needed to reduce the load on wireless 4G/LTE networks which will have finite capacity due to the limited spectrum on which they are running. While the government is working towards releasing new spectrum, but over a longer term, spectrum will be scarce and so FTTH is needed to reduce the load on wireless spectrum.
In developed countries, fixed line services comprise almost 45-50 percent of the total telecom revenues. In India, fixed-line constitutes less than 20 percent of the revenues, with the rest coming from mobile services.
Besides, in developed countries a large portion of fixed line revenues come from broadband services, while most of 20 percent of India’s fixed line revenues come from voice.
The good news is that a lot is already happening on wired infrastructure front. The government has announced the NOFN project which envisages providing broadband connectivity to 2.5 lakh panchayats over an optic fiber backbone. Large private service providers are also upgrading their networks by adding more fiber based links.
Currently only 25 percent of the mobile cell sites in the country are served by fiber. Many small to medium ISPs in the country are offering FTTH based broadband services of 10Mbps and more. In the long term the fixed and mobile services need to grow in a balanced manner to realize maximum synergies between them.
Himanshu Agarwal, Product Marketing at Tejas Networks