The telecom sector in India has followed a revolutionary trajectory. The industry moved on from voice communication as the mainstay under 2G to data-led 3G and then from there to 4G services. 4G, in fact, has brought about a paradigm shift, with even voice now being carried over data.
For providing 4G data services, characterised by higher network speeds and low latency, fibre-connected sites are important. Data consumption has already reached 15-20 GB per user per month. As per industry estimates, at least 50 per cent tower fiberisation is a must for a seamless 4G network. With the advent of 5G, a higher tower site fiberisation requirement becomes crucial. The government has already given its approval to telecom operators vis-à-vis using the existing spectrum for 5G trials. For any tower to be 5G ready, it needs to be fiberised to provide the required bandwidth (greater than 1 Gbps), latency (less than 10 milliseconds) and speeds (200-400 Mbps).
Currently, only 25-30 per cent of telecom towers across the industry are fiberised. We take immense pride in our portfolio, wherein 62 per cent of our sites are fibre connected, of which 86 per cent of sites are in urban areas and 44 per cent rural areas.
Necessities for the deployment of fibre
Historically, the telecom industry focused only on connecting cities; hence, only national long distance fibre was deployed. Now fibre must reach within the boundaries of the cities and for that matter, it may become a necessity for it to reach every tower and home. Institutions and corporates must now prioritise their efforts towards the fiberisation of cities.
The following are some of the measures that are required to bring in the much-needed pace to city fiberisation:
- A uniform policy across cities and states
- RoW cost rationalisation
- Fibre to be made an integral part of city planning
- One-time digging
- A new revenue model based on the sharing of dark fibre.
Sharing as the way forward
Now is the time for all telecom stakeholders to come together and build a model similar to the former construct where tower sharing was a common concept.
Of course, there will be some commercial challenges, which can be steered through consideration and consensus between telecom operators (telcos) and tower companies (towercos).
It is imperative to acknowledge and accept the cost pressures at the telecom operators’ end. The cost of data in India is the lowest in the world. This is where deliberation will be important. Telcos and towercos will have to design a robust master service agreement for fibre sharing. This will enable an operator to go to any towerco for fibre- and infra-related services. And if the expected infrastructure already exists, the need for constructing a new tower will diminish, thus conserving a national reserve.
We understand that towercos are exploring business models and we believe the proposition will be viable if commercial contracts between towercos and telcos are designed considering long-term perspectives. That said, we do expect significant support from urban local authorities in providing a conducive ecosystem for fibre sharing. We strongly feel that fibre deployment can be a part of their town planning, similar to the underground utility services where common ducts are available for laying gas pipelines and underground electrical cables without the need for repeated digging and damage to the road.
Fibre companies can be kept in the loop about the plans for road construction, widening, reinstatement, repairs, etc. Besides, costs must be brought under sharp control.