With India witnessing an exponential growth in data consumption, particularly in the consumer and enterprise segments, telecom businesses and internet service providers (ISPs) are grappling with capacity challenges. India has a fibre network of about 1.5 million km, as compared to 18.2 million km in China, with a per capita fibre deployment of around 0.1 as against 1.3 in China. This clearly indicates significant gaps in infrastructure development. Less than 25 per cent of the telecom towers have fibre backhaul, which is a major bottleneck in meeting high speed and data throughput requirements.

A lot of these telecom infrastructure-related problems can be solved by having a convergent approach. India has an omnipresent, robust infrastructure of power utilities that can be effectively leveraged to meet the growing data communication requirements. Sterlite Power’s Convergence Business has embarked on a journey to build a pan-Indian communication network by leveraging its utility assets. Through its unique public-private partnership (PPP) model, it is creating win-win opportunities for the state and private utilities, communication service providers (CSPs) and enterprise customers as well as for the development of smart cities.

The company has access to 6,816 route km of optical ground wire (OPGW) fibre network, which is either ready or at the commissioning stage, and 21,651 transmission towers spread across 19 states. It has built co-location facilities across transmission routes for enabling service providers to house their telecom equipment. These facilities are set up at a highly secured, theft/ sabotage-proof location inside substations with more than 99.9 per cent service availability, including uninterrupted power supply, cooling, remote monitoring and surveillance. The company is also working to deploy telecom antennas on transmission towers. Power will be supplied to the telecom antennas through innovative stepdown voltage transformers that guarantee 24×7 power supply, thus avoiding the use of diesel.

Sterlite Power’s converged business has established unique PPP models. In Maharashtra, the company has deployed about 3,000 km of reliable OPGW through a joint venture with Maharashtra State Electricity Transmission Company Limited. It is the largest OPGW network in the state with dark fibre availability. It was formed both for internal communication and commercial lease to CSPs. The network’s ring architecture connects major cities in the state. Further, the company has entered into long-term fiber lease agreements with  various ISPs and telcos. All these customers have improved their network performance and customer experience significantly by virtue of unmatched and industry best-in-class uptimes, which are unique to OPGW fibre.

Broadband access enabled by the reliable network of utilities can do wonders, as has been seen in the case of many developed and developing countries. In India, villages will be able to enjoy uninterrupted broadband access through which they can avail of not only government schemes, but also the huge expanse of knowledge available that will improve their livelihood. Farmers will be able to access information on the best use of resources, and also sell their produce online. A sprawling web of rural industries can efficiently use the internet and access markets without geographical limitations. A digitalised rural economy will act as a springboard for making a bigger contribution to the country’s GDP.

Smart cities and convergence

Smart cities put data and digital technology to work with the goal of improving the quality of life. More comprehensive, real-time data gives agencies the ability to watch events as they unfold, understand how demand patterns are changing, and respond with faster and lower-cost solutions. To enable this, a strong and reliable communication network infrastructure is needed.

For the Gurugram smart city project, Sterlite Power’s Convergence Business is building a crucial part of the intra-city network, and will maintain and operate it for 21 years. The company has entered into a PPP with the Gurugram Metropolitan Development Authority to build a network of dark fibre cables to power data-centric services across the smart city, thereby providing connectivity to buildings and business clusters.

Generally, in smart city projects it is the smart city special purpose vehicle that meets the entire capex and opex requirements. In this context, Sterlite Power’s PPP engagement is unique, as the company itself is involved in obtaining the right of way, deploying capex, building the fibre network, and managing/maintaining this network.

While state utilities can utilise this network for captive purposes, the remaining capacity will be monetised. The business unit plans to offer the same advantage to various smart cities across states by partnering with the smart city authorities.

Sterlite Power’s Convergence Business is operating at the confluence of the power and telecom sectors, and is well placed to solve connectivity challenges in India.

By N.K. Panda, Head, Convergence Business, Sterlite Power