Ram Sellaratnam, CEO and MD, iBus Networks
2021 was a pivotal year for the digital market as the world witnessed an unprecedented rise in the adoption of digitalisation. The pandemic has underlined the requirement for network/connectivity transformation globally, and the need for internet of things (IoT) has become critical. In this evolving digital world, devices need to be “smart” at birth – as in, they need to not only be self-aware, but also interconnected with peer devices as well as humans. Therefore, digital infrastructure is an all-inclusive platform for delivering connectivity across human-initiated data to device-initiated data.
Need for digital infrastructure transformation at scale
Digital infrastructure is fundamental to the growth of the digital economy. The digital economy is characterised by the three digital pillars of e-commerce, e-learning and e-healthcare. According to a McKinsey report titled “Digital India: Technology to Transform a Connected Nation”, various sectors in India, such as health, education, retail and financial services, are leveraging technology and the country’s improving digital infrastructure to establish their respective multi-billion dollar verticals – health-tech, ed-tech, e-commerce and fintech. To orchestrate each of these components, it is imperative to create connectivity infrastructure that is scalable, interoperable and multi-dimensional, which can be done by digitalising end-to-end infrastructure. Using technologies such as IoT, cloud, and artificial intelligence, infrastructure operators will surely modernise and unlock the true potential of digital infrastructure.
To achieve the new digital vision, overcoming the inherent limitations built into the legacy infrastructure and network architecture is mandatory. Network virtualisation is one of the key building blocks of a digital foundation. The transformation of physical infrastructure to digital is being enabled with the advent of network virtualisation, open radio access networks (O-RAN) and edge computing. Use cases such as adoption of O-RAN in the telecom industry, device/human multi-dimensional data analytics and intelligence, software-defined networks, and green computing are already becoming mainstream and delivering business value.
Ramification of developments in in-building connectivity
Indoor connectivity requires a multi-dimensional approach that is interoperable across cellular, broadband and IoT spectrum. It also needs to be made available in a neutral model for multiple service providers to use and connect. Across the spectrum, 80 per cent of payloads and data usage occurs indoors, and therefore dark spot-free connectivity is vital especially in the post-Covid world. Demand for indoor connectivity has grown by 240 per cent during 2021, and will continue to grow.
Apart from this, the penetration of smartphones and the increased availability of reliable internet leads to increased consumption of high-quality, and often heavy-to-transfer, content, in turn driving improvements in the quality of traditional information media such as videos, pictures and music. Novel telecommunications help businesses adapt to new types of information media, such as virtual and augmented reality, the metaverse, and cloud-based gaming, which require not only high-speed transmission but also low latency.
FTTx space during 2021
The telecom sector faces several looming challenges in the form of network load and infrastructure optimisation, effectively addressing subscriber grievances to reduce churn, and improving security for telecommunications. Newer use cases such as work from home, online education, telemedicine, and surging video consumption all point towards the fact that constant seamless connectivity is now non-negotiable. As the world continues to battle with the pandemic, fiberisation and fibre-to-the-x (FTTx) have become immediate areas of focus. India has a legacy of poor fibre connectivity, especially intra-city and last-mile, due to regulatory, right of way challenges and the lack of a predictable economic model for deploying and operating a business. Even as regulatory changes are slow to come, the roll-out of FTTx is growing. However, the roll-out will be challenged in the short term due to pandemic.
Outlook for 2022
The year 2022 is going to witness the evolution of digital infrastructure, with a predominant focus on developing more efficient strategies and products that enable a fully digital customer experience. Operators and infra players have started replacing physical touchpoints with digital ones to leverage data gathered from multiple digital touchpoints for driving revenue while keeping their capital investment and operational costs low. Alongside enabling digital onboarding, and deploying and monetising 5G use cases, digital security is also going to grab greater attention. Digital infrastructure can power the next mega trend, as connected devices can converge, bringing more efficiency and possibilities in the future. India, with its enhanced focus on digital infrastructure, is looking forward to supporting the growing demand for digital services and rising online traffic.